Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Selling public land and shafting the taxpayers

When is it appropriate for government to sell public lands? Governments of all kinds routinely sell land, but they keep the proceeds from such sales in the public treasury, and most people are okay with this arrangement.

Except in Lucas County, where our Board of Commissioners thinks it's okay to sell public lands to a non-profit entity with the clear expectation that the non-profit will re-sell the property to a developer and make a ton money.

According to Comm. Tina Skeldon Wozniak, quoted in this article in The Blade, the non-profit agency, "deserves to have it." Comm. Pete Gerken said it "was a reward to the recreation district for taking care of the site for more than a decade."

The BCC has been leasing the Centennial Terrace to a non-profit group for years. Under the lease agreement, they're supposed to run the recreational area and not ask for any more funds from the County...but they did ask, and routinely received, funds or improvements over the years. And they've done a good job of managing the Centennial Terrace - but that's not the point. We're not supposed to reward non-profit agencies with public lands without due compensation to the public which owns them. And why does a non-profit organization deserve the property more than the taxpayers?

The value of the land is only what someone is willing to pay for it. And if there is a developer who is willing to pay $1.5 million for 1.78 of the 19 acres in the property, then that sale should be done by the commissioners with the proceeds going into the County treasury.

This was an issue last year when I was still a commissioner - and it's taken this long for them to come up with a spin to put on the sale. The way to sell this deal is to call it "local control." As Comm. Gerken says, "We know putting the property in local hands is the right thing to do." But a non-profit agency is not 'local control,' especially when everyone knows that a developer will soon have 'control' of at least a portion of that property.

In this case, the commissioners are abdicating their obligation to do what's in the best interest of the public they serve - instead choosing to do what's in the best interest of a non-profit agency. And this at a time when they're not meeting their revenue projections...

So instead of you, me and all county residents getting $1.5 million for a portion of the land at Centennial Terrace, we're getting $1. What's wrong with this picture?

10 comments:

-Sepp said...

Well Maggie, thats part of the problem with your leaving, there will no longer be a voice of reason and, the two clowns that served with you now have a free pass to do whatever they wish without any resistance.

Maggie Thurber said...

but, -sepp, two votes still beats one so my leaving the board wouldn't have made a difference in the decision.

But I'll blog about these decisions so at least people know they're being made...

-Sepp said...

Yes, I understand that you were always outnumbered but, to the Joe Donut on the street, it appeared that you didn't make it easy for them to simply run right over you. Kind of an "ethical speedbump". Now that you're gone, the speedbump that caused them to slow down slightly (and hopefully think for a split second) before doing something stupid is gone. It's just so nice that Gerkin and Wozniak can "reward" a group with a "gift" of that enormity without asking those who actually hold title to it...US...what our feeling on the matter is.

Maggie Thurber said...

interesting perspective ... never thought of myself as the 'speedbump' and I think I like it.

Luke said...

You are totally correct. The sale of county owned lands to an agency for the sole purpose of its resale to a developer who will pay handsomely is ridiculous. The county should sell it directly to the developer and use that money to fund some of the programs it asks us to pay for via levy after levy, tax after tax.

Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em

Black Swamp Road Geek said...

Maggie, I agree with most of what you post, but you are leaving out an important fact. The non-profit referred to is the joint recreation district for Sylvania. It is funded by property taxes. The proceeds are to be used to fund improvements at Centennial Terrace. Government entities should not profit of the sale of property to another government entity and the transfer of the property to SAJRD is of that variety. The county wants out of the water recreation business (see removal of the pool at rec center) and this is another way to hand that role over to the entity that provides recreation services in the area. The parking that exists there is no where near adequate for some of the larger events held there. Selling off the parking to allow for the development of more parking at City owned land next door could solve this problem if implemented properly. If the county were to sell the land to the developer, the money would vanish just like the extra money that the Hens have been paying in and not be used for recreational purposes. This transaction will insure that recreation dollars will stay with recreation

Maggie Thurber said...

Black Swamp Road Geek - I'm fully aware of this twist of facts that people use to justify the sale. The fact that the non-profit is another tax-funded entity is not the point. That they are a non-profit IS. Just because they receive specific tax dollars from the Sylvania area only doesn't mean that they are entitled to make a profit at the expense of the rest of the County.

The "county wants out of water recreation" is a smokescreen - I know as I've been in on such discussions. The county leaders didn't want to deal with the hassle of coordinating the competing interests of the township and city over the land, water, sewer and annexation. Not to mention the small portion of this land that is owned by the Sylvania School District.

But, they DID want the developer to get the property and this was the only way to let this particular developer get access without a public bid.

You must look beneath the surface at all the underlying issues and not just accept what you are told.

But in the end, this will go through and the county taxpayers who got the raw end of this arrangement will never complain - if they even understand what just occurred.

Hooda Thunkit said...

Well the whole thing smells to me.

And, there's the back room dealings that make things almost seem ethical..., ALMOST, but not quite.

How will future generations look at these dealings, once political ethics returns, no matter how briefly...

Kurt said...

This makes absolutely no sense. There are only two reasons to sell property. The first is to make money. The second is to avoid future losses. Either way, you sell for the fair market value. I personally don't see a distinction between a non-profit and a for-profit corporation in this situation from the perspective of the county. But the seller should always take the best deal. The non-profit should be willing to pay fair market value. If not, you don't sell, especially for one dollar no matter how large your preference for a local buyer is.

-Sepp said...

Kurt, this being Toledo / Lucas county, I suspect that one of the commissioners who pushed this land deal will be getting a "little something" for the favor. Look at Toledo's past land deals to get an idea...j-fo giving the steamplant and 300 grand to Jackson-Ball. Ball speaks as if the 300 grand never happened but, J-Fo was mysteriously 300 grand ahead in his campaign coffers afterwards, Carty and his shady condo deal and, now this. Somewhere, somehow, somebody in politics will gain a lot from this give away.
My prediction is that when the land IS sold to a developer, one of the commissioners will get a sweetheart deal on some property.

Google Analytics Alternative