Thursday, June 18, 2009

Winterville Goes Old School (literally)

The City of Winterville has “purchased” the old high school and auditorium buildings located within its confines from the Clarke County School District for a token payment of $1 (see here and here).

The property is supposedly worth “more than $1 million.” So why would the financially-strapped folks on Mitchell Bridge Road – to hear them tell it, anyway – willingly sell CCSD property for less than 0.0001% of its market value (I’m familiar with the buildings in question and that figure seems absurdly high to me, but that is a another matter).

The probable reason why the CCSD was happy to dump its property on someone else for a token payment is because the buildings have not been used for ages and represented huge, and growing, maintenance and liability problems.

What I cannot see is why the Winterville municipal government was so eager to take the property. Yes, I understand about civic pride, nostalgia, and wanting to have a place for various functions. But, to me, the potential financial down side of this transaction is enormous. According to the Banner-Herald:

The school district had earmarked $500,000 in special-purpose, local-option sales tax to renovate the buildings, but that money wasn't enough to do all that was needed to restore the buildings, [interim superintendent] Simms said in 2005.

So how much will such restoration require now? How much will be incurred in ongoing maintenance and operations expenses? How much will be required for liability insurance coverage? More importantly, how will all of this revenue be raised in a town with approximately 1000 residents?

Winterville property owners currently pay 2.90 mills in property tax to their municipal government, in addition to 20.00 mills they pay to the Clarke County School District and 13.20 mills they pay to the Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County. So, what happens, now?

Also according to the Banner-Herald, the deal between the CCSD and Winterville goes even further:

The agreement also would allow the Northeast Georgia Regional Education Service Agency (RESA), which is next door to the old buildings, to buy an adjoining piece of property - also for $1 - to expand its existing office space off Winter Street.

I looked up the two parcels in question, by my reckoning they are parcels 283A4 B001 and 283A4 C001, valued by the Clarke County Tax Assessor at $1,021,500 and $1,302,750, respectively. Obviously, the CCSD has no use for either property, but do the taxpayers really need to sacrifice almost a quarter of a million dollars in real estate for a couple of bucks?
Would not a better option be to sell this land on the open market, thereby returning it to the property tax rolls?

Though I live in the Winterville area, my house is a few hundred yards (at most) outside of the city limits, so whatever tax implications this has will not affect me directly – though the possibility of indirect effects strike me as a distinct possibility.

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