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Wake County Commissioners Examine Land Purchases for Schools

Posted July 10, 2007

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— The Wake County Board of Commissioners postponed a vote on buying two sites for new schools after reports of questionable land sales surfaced.

The Wake County Board of Education is trying to finalize deals for 20 acres in Cary and 46 acres in Rolesville. The deadline to get those pieces of land at the current asking price is July 31.

“We’re getting caught in a squeeze,” said school board member Beverley Clark.

Wake County commissioners, who must approve land purchases, put off a vote, because they are not convinced the Board of Education is striking good deals.

Before purchase, the commissioners will require the school board to provide them with a checklist that includes the ownership history and appraisals of the land under consideration.

“One of the key pieces of information that we want is appraisals from a certified appraiser that we are getting a fair price for the money that we’re spending,” said Tony Gurley, the commissioners chairman.

“We’ve given the county commissioners all the information that they’ve asked for. I’m aware of no information that they’ve requested that they’ve not received,” said Lori Millberg, a school board member.

Recent controversy over prices paid for land prompted the commissioners’ closer examination of the current purchases.

In once incident, the Board of Education backed out of a deal to pay $8 million for land in Apex after it was discovered that the site was appraised at half that amount.

School board member Ron Margiotta said a case such as that of the Apex land deal “raises questions in my mind, not because it’s my dollars, because it’s the taxpayer’s money.”

School board members said that land owners are aware of Wake County’s need for large lots that are increasingly scarce in the county.

“Part of it is that we have announced to the world where we’re looking for schools,” said Millberg.

“So, yes, unfortunately, there are people out there who are trying to profit from the school system,” said Clark.

If county commissioners don't approve the purchases by the end of the month, the prices of the Cary and Rolesville sites will likely jump.

“If we lose this deal because the county commissioners didn’t approve it yesterday, it could cost the taxpayers a lot of money,” said Millberg.

The Board of Education is talking with the sellers of the sites about extending the deadline.


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  • tlh1005 Jul 11, 2007

    Like I said, they'll feel differently 10 years from now when growth and expansion is requiring the DOT to widen roads and take 3 feet of their precious front lawns away because of eminent domain.

  • ARaleighNative Jul 11, 2007

    I have to say that the problem lies with the principal of Trademark who apparently put herself in a position to take part in the decision-making and the rewards of substantial sales commissions. A sweet deal that clearly demonstrates her lack of ethics. I will go so far as to guess this is a career-long pattern and practice of this individual. Integrity is sorely lacking here. Frankly, we're all sick of this double dealing!!
    Put "Five on your Side" staff on this one- we're consumers, and frankly, we're not being well-served.

  • Harvey Jul 11, 2007

    I can't believe anyone would advocate eminent domain. Much less than having it come from "free market conservatives. What happened to letting the market dictate the value? You conservatives need to get together and get your story straight. The government should NEVER just steal land from private citizens. If they want it... buy it. Otherwise, take a hike. tlh1005 has it right!

  • Tax Man Jul 11, 2007

    How about we identify the land we need for the schools - then have it appraised - then make a reasonable offer to the owners. If accepted, fine. If not, then we go into eminent domain and buy the land for the appraised value. The land is being used for a public purpose so eminent domain should be appropriate. On the land deal in Apex, why not go back and buy it at the appraised value? Land owners are entitled to a fair price for their land - but if it is necessary for a valid public purpose, then the government can buy it for the fair market value even if the owners do not want to sell. The government should never have to pay over value for land. Seems I remember that there was a consortium, perhaps headed up by SAS founder Goodnight, to buy up land and resell to the schools for a major profit. Why not enlist Dr. Goodnight to do the same thing on behalf of the schools? He likes to do things for Wake schools and is active on many committees for education.

  • Mr. Iowa Jul 11, 2007

    Here's my problem:

    ' “If we lose this deal because the county commissioners didn’t approve it yesterday, it could cost the taxpayers a lot of money,” said Millberg. '

    Ok, it's one thing to talk about urgent need, etc. But to start throwing out lines that I'd expect from a used car salesman... I lose respect. "Oh, the sale ends tomorrow, so the price is going to jump up if you don't buy now! I can only hold this car for you so long, but another sales agent told me that another family was looking at it. If you want to make a deal now you can have it."

    Let's build schools out in the middle of nowhere. Know why? It's cheap, you have to bus 1/2 of the school district anyway, and housing developers are just going to expand to that land as well.

  • Uncle Ruckus Jul 11, 2007

    And who were the "Friends of Wake County?" Just follow the money.

  • tlh1005 Jul 10, 2007

    MohawkinNC, you might feel differently if it was your family's land on the other end of that eminent domain law; Land your family farmed and held for 90+ years. Personally I'd try and work out something good for both sides if it were my land in question. It was refreshing to read the article a week ago about the developer who backed off bidding on land so that a church could obtain it at a decent price. That said, real estate is worth what someone is willing to pay for it at any point in time. It's often mentioned that the land in the Apex/Cary case only appraises for half of the asking price. Who cares what the appraiser says; This isn't a mortgaged backed by a bank that needs to worry about risk of foreclosure or going upside down on the sale. If the appraisal says $4M and there are developers who want to bid against the county at $8M, the land is worth $8M at that point in time. Once the land is gone it's gone. It's the owner's choice if the offered price is worth the loss.

  • 18monkeys Jul 10, 2007

    The commissioners are not trying to line their pockets, they are trying to build their empire. Their only duty is to set the tax rate. Without the school system to kick around, they would be hard pressed to justify their own existence. David Cooke has been trying for years to get ownership of the school buildings. Somehow, the commissioners are now armchair developers when in reality they are merely funded by developers (hence the hesitation for any type of transfer tax). Once the school system budget is set, they need to get out of the way. Any holding of funds or attempts to micromanage is out of line.

  • MohawkinNC Jul 10, 2007

    I can understand folks wanting to make a profit, but to do so at the expense of the taxpayer and our children, that is low. If ever there was a case for exercising "eminent domain," this is it. Unfortunately, it sounds like the county commissioners are too enmeshed with the real estate community to allow it. When are our public officials going to start looking out for the people in this community who need their help instead of the interests of those who can best line their pockets!