Bird Dog Politics



The problem with having more money than you know what to do with is that you often find yourself doing things with it that you probably shouldn’t.

Much like the Burke County Board of Commissioners did earlier this month when they purchased 22.65 acres and an 1,887-square foot house on the corner of Clark Place Road and Highway 24 East. There’s the obvious question of “why” – which we’ll get to in a moment – after the other obvious question of “what did it cost us?”

The good news is the commission had enough walkingaround sense not to pay the asking price of $675,000, which would have amounted to somewhere in the neighborhood of $25,000 an acre, excluding some value for the house. The bad news is they still paid too much at $350,000. That’s more than double the tax appraised value of $170,939.

I’ll grant you the tax value is probably behind the market curve, but the commissioners still paid well above the going rate for Burke County’s most desirable land.

On top of that, the property wasn’t even on the open market, so it’s not like we needed to move fast to avoid someone else picking it up. The owner, B.J. Jones of Waynesboro, went straight to the commission last year and told them he wanted to sell and named his price.

If that frustrates you, I recommend you quit reading now because the answer to that question of why we needed this property just might push you over the edge. According to County Manager Merv Waldrop, there is no formal or immediate plan for the property at this time.

There has been the mention of a park with walking trails and a fishing pier, which is odd because the fishing pond is actually located on 75-acres adjacent to this property – on a parcel the county already owns. Waldrop recommended the need for a plan for that acreage as well to avoid its haphazard development. You could argue that has already begun with the county’s odd placement of the new animal shelter on its east end. Waldrop also admitted the county may or may not need the house we just purchased and that it could eventually be torn down.

I’ve got nothing against walking trails or fishing holes but Waynesboro already has a large fishing area, open to the public, by the name of Jones Lake. And if you’re looking for somewhere to walk outside, the Family Y has a walking track (on county property); there’s a large sports field behind the rec department gym (again, county-owned); and the City of Waynesboro built the Greenway Trail a number of years ago. Of all the things we need in and around Waynesboro, it’s hard to argue either of these would be high on the list.

Lastly, there’s the way this purchase was handled completely behind closed doors. The law does allow for discussions about buying and selling property to be handled in closed session without the public watching, to avoid sellers driving the price up because they know the government is interested or alerting competing buyers, neither of which would have been a problem in this instance. The law only requires that a public vote be held at some point to make the transaction binding. In this case, the commission voted at its regular meeting last Tuesday, several days after the closing of the sale.

In making the motion to approve the purchase, commissioner Tommy Nix called it a “formality of bringing it to the public,” noting that the commission had held three executive sessions to discuss the matter. All five commissioners voted to approve the purchase, as well as went along with the process being completed without once asking for the public’s opinion.

I was told more than once this was done on the recommendation of the county attorney, so it seems the commission could be added to the growing list of local governments failing to question poor legal advice.

Long story short, the five members of the county commission agreed to purchase a piece of property that we can’t say we really need and that we don’t know what we might do with, while paying way more than it was worth, and we took the money out of “savings” to do it – all without letting taxpayers know anything about the plan.

They say a fool and his money are soon parted. In this instance, the citizens of Burke County have been played for the fools.

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