UPDATED: County Land Sale Was Unethical, Resident Says - The Missourian: Local News

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UPDATED: County Land Sale Was Unethical, Resident Says

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Posted: Thursday, May 23, 2013 3:00 pm | Updated: 3:25 pm, Fri May 24, 2013.

Two Franklin County commissioners said Friday that they now plan on seeking public bids for a controversial piece of property.

Recently, the commissioners voted to sell a parcel in the Whispering Valley development south of New Haven.

Presiding County Commissioner John Griesheimer said he still thinks the county handled the land sale in a legal and ethical manner the first time. But he said he is willing to seek public bids in response to concerns over how the land deal was handled.

First District County Commissioner Tim Brinker said he would also be open to seeking public bids for the property.

Below is the earlier story on the issue:

A Krakow man alleges that the Franklin County Commission sold a piece of public property in an unethical manner.

Dean Riegel said the county commission’s decision to sell a .120-acre parcel of property to Christopher Boone for $1 was done “under the table” through a “buddy system.”

A stipulation to the sale was that Boone cover the cost of demolishing the old house at the site.

The land deal was handled in an unethical manner because the county “did not give everyone a chance to buy that property,” Riegel said.

“I just think it was handled the wrong way,” he said. “I’m all about everybody’s rights.”

Disagree

County officials strongly disagree with Riegel’s claims that the land sale was improperly handled. They say that the parcel was offered in a public tax sale three times with no bids received.

The commissioners say they saw this as a good opportunity to get the property cleaned up and back on the tax rolls.

The county took over ownership of the land and house after the previous owner did not pay taxes. It is located within the Whispering Valley development south of New Haven.

Presiding County Commissioner John Griesheimer said the land sale was not a “sweetheart deal,” and he takes issue with it being described as such.

“We did the right thing,” Griesheimer said.

Prior to selling the land to Boone, the county tried to give the land to the adjoining property owners with no luck, Griesheimer said.

The property was a health hazard and eyesore, and the county had an obligation to clean it up, Griesheimer said.

First District County Commissioner Tim Brinker said the property is in violation of the county’s codes, and the land deal with Boone was a way to fix the problem.

“It was available for years to the public,” Brinker said, and now rather than being the county’s problem, the parcel will be cleaned up and put back on the tax rolls.

Second District Commissioner Mike Schatz also agreed with the way the land deal was handled.

The land deal actually saves the county money since Boone must tear down the old house, Griesheimer said. This saves the county the demolition costs, he said.

Favoritism Allegations

This was not just a special deal for Boone, Griesheimer said. If other county residents are interested in taking over property by paying back taxes on parcel, they should contact the county collector’s office, he said.

Boone did not have to pay the back taxes on the parcel since he agreed to raze the house. This was a unique case, Griesheimer said.

Boone could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Brinker said he approached Boone about the parcel at a Franklin County Municipal League event.

Boone is one of the owners of Cochran Engineering of Union and Riegel’s ex brother-in-law.

The property is not even big enough to install a septic system under the county’s codes, Griesheimer said.

Riegel said the fact that the county sold the property to his ex-brother-in-law has nothing to do with him being upset about the deal.

“I’ve got no hard feelings about him,” said Riegel, who owns a lot in the Whispering Valley development.

This is just an example of good-ol’-boys politics, according to Riegel, who said Boone was treated with favoritism.

“That’s not ethically the way to do it,” Riegel said, adding that the land deal makes him lose trust in the county commission.

Now that the land sale has been approved, the county commission has set a precedent, Riegel said, adding that he wants to buy a piece of property for $1 next.

“I think they’re giving property away,” Riegel said.

Others Not Given Chance?

Riegel said he thinks there should have been more opportunity for others to bid on the property rather than just selling it to Boone for $1 with the condition that the house be razed.

But county officials claim there was ample chance for other members of the public to bid on the property when it went up for a tax sale three times.

However, Riegel said there should have been another call for public interest when the county decided to sell it for $1 with the condition the old house be torn down.

He said he would have bid $10 especially since the county was paying the closing costs.

There could have been a notice put in the newspaper asking people to submit bids, and the county should have taken the highest offer, Riegel said

Filing a lawsuit over the way the deal was handled is not out of the question, Riegel said. However, he said he is not a lawyer and cannot say whether the land deal was legal or not but said he thinks it was unethical.

The county should have at least offered the property to the homeowners association in Whispering Valley, Riegel said.

It appears the county also inflated numbers over what it would cost to tear it down, Riegel said.

Griesheimer said he heard from the county building department that it would cost more than $10,000 to raze the house. Therefore, he said Boone was actually doing the county a favor by tearing down the structure since the county saved the demolition costs.

But Riegel said he thinks Griesheimer made the demolition sound more costly than it actually is to make selling the land to Boone seem more reasonable.

“That was just a big fictitious number they brought up,” Riegel said, adding that he could have had the house torn down in eight hours.

Moreover, Riegel suggested that the New Haven-Berger Fire Department could have burned the home down for free as part of training.

But Griesheimer said the fire department does not offer that service and burning the structure presented problems with potentially causing a forest fire.

Property Values

Selling the property for such a small amount of money “destroys” the assessed value of other properties in Whispering Valley, Riegel said.

But Griesheimer said some of the properties are old and run down.

Riegel agreed that it was a good move for the county to get rid of the property and get it cleaned up. He just disagrees with the way it was handled.

Now it is too late to do anything to fix the situation, Riegel said, adding, “The damage is done.”

/local_news

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