Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Feb. 5, 2001

Wright board splits on land purchase

By John Holler

The night before the Jan. 30 meeting of the Wright County Board, a storm of ice and snow made driving hazardous and even walking an adventure. However, the storm inside the courthouse at the Jan. 30 meeting was just as strong.

The commissioners clashed over a proposed land purchase in which arguments ensued over the process - which left some commissioners out of the loop on a proposal that will cost more than $500,000 - and those left out of the process were none too pleased about their exclusion.

At question was a proposed land purchase of 31 acres of land connected to the current Public Works site in Buffalo Township, a site that may eventually be used to house a new jail when a facility is built.

The property, which was assessed at $220,000 was agreed on in principle to be sold for $517,000, with the county first extracting gravel deposits under the land. However, Commissioner Dick Mattson was stunned by the price and wondered what kind of negotiations had arrived at such an astronomical figure.

"I think this price is very high," Mattson said. "I can't understand it. We didn't have the full board involved in this process and that concerns me. We haven't done it this way in the past and I think it's far too high of a price to pay."

The cost will actually be higher than the $517,000 list price. At closing, the county would pay $200,000, including $10,000 in earnest money delivered up front, followed by payments of $117,000 on or before April 15, 2002, and $100,000 payments on or before the same date in 2003 and 2004.

However, as part of the negotiation, the payments in 2002 and beyond would include a 6.5 percent interest payment on the balance. For example, the 2002 payment alone would include more than $20,000 in additional interest payments on the unpaid $317,000 - taking the final cost much higher.

Commissioner Jack Russek, who sat on the negotiation process with Board Chair Ken Jude said the price isn't outrageous because of the gravel reserves under the property, a home valued at $160,000 on the land and its location connecting to currently owned county property - something more difficult to find with the expansion of the Buffalo area.

While the county doesn't plan to build on the property now - and may never build the new jail out there - Jude said the time was right to buy the property or else risk losing out on it completely.

"We won't move out there now or even in the next five years," Jude said. "But it would be an option. If we want to mine the property and then sell it, we can do that, too. (The owners) are going to sell the property to someone, whether it's us or not. Seeing that it's a contiguous piece of land to county property, it seems wise to me to make this move."

Commissioner Pat Sawatzke disagreed, saying that nowhere in the minutes of the committee discussing the purchase was the process of negotiating a selling price mentioned and said that the process itself was flawed because of it - claiming this was the first he had seen anything about a purchase agreement and was being immediately asked to decide on whether to spend $500,000. Jude countered that the process of making such decisions does not always include the full board in the initial stages.

"Not everyone is going to be in on everything," Jude said. "There were no illegal meetings. An offer was made to the county and negotiated for a price we could accept."

The matter seemed destined to be split, which Russek and Jude in favor and Mattson and Sawatzke opposed. Commissioner Elmer Eichelberg cast the deciding vote in favor of accepting the proposal, which will give the county new property next to existing county land.

"I could see both sides of the issue on this one," Eichelberg said. "But, when it came down to my decision, it was getting property that adjoined county land that made the difference. I thought if we didn't act on it, we could lose it, but I do understand why two of the commissioners disagreed."

The motion to buy the property passed 3-2, with Sawatzke and Mattson voting against it. The money will come out the capital projects land acquisition fund.

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