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Wivell questions way county sells property

January 31, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Washington County Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell is calling for an overhaul of the way the county sells its surplus real estate, after questioning whether the county is following the right steps to get the highest prices for its land.

Wivell, in a Jan. 21 e-mail to the county's real property administrator, Dean Lowery, took issue with the pending sale of 23 acres owned by the county on Marble Quarry Road near Rohrersville.

The County Commissioners agreed to sell the property, in an agricultural zone, for $79,000.

In the e-mail, Wivell compared that price with the price of privately owned land of a smaller size near Keedysville, which is going for more than double what the county is asking for its land.

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The Keedysville-area property - 18.47 acres - is on sale for $189,000, Wivell said in his e-mail.

In a Jan. 26 e-mail to Lowery, Wivell also questioned the procedures Lowery used to get the word out that the county land was on the market.

Wivell contends in the e-mail that Lowery placed a sign on the property without advertising or marketing it outside the county. Wivell sent the e-mail to The Herald-Mail.

"Placing a sign on a property without advertising is a joke - I know of no one that would dispose of their own property in the same manner," Wivell wrote.

Wivell wrote in the Jan. 26 e-mail that Lowery also had asked the commissioners to approve the property's sale at the $79,000 price, when the county still was receiving higher bids on the land.

"Sale in such a manner leaves much doubt in the public eye," Wivell told Lowery in the e-mail.

In a Jan. 26 e-mail response to Wivell, Lowery said the county's Marble Quarry Road property should not be compared to the Keedysville-area property, stating there are vast differences between the two.

One of the differences is that the front part of the county's property - including its entrance - is in a flood plain, while the other is not, Lowery wrote. Also, the county's property is in an area where the value of homes is between $100,000 and $250,000, while the Keedysville-area property is near an area where the value of homes is between $300,000 and $400,000.

Lowery said by phone Friday that the county does the best it can to sell surplus property in a manner that best would benefit the county.

He also said county employees are working on a policy that will establish tight procedures for disposing of surplus property.

"What we want to do is come up with a policy the (commissioners) review and can be happy with," Lowery said.

Lowery said the new policy could mean the county would have full appraisals done on its surplus property.

Now, Lowery evaluates the land or seeks a written evaluation for an estimate of the land's value.

Wivell said by phone Friday that the county should sell its surplus property through a public auction so the public has an opportunity to make bids. He said that would eliminate the possibility that citizens think an "inside deal" was made in a property sale.

"It just seems like we kind of haphazardly dispose of real estate," Wivell said.

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