MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

February 25, 2013

Land deal draws questions: County commissioners have reservations over price offered

— City officials hoping to buy real estate from the county for retail development may have a tough sell ahead of them.

In a letter hand-delivered, City Manager Greg Buckley offered to pay $826,596 for a tract located at the southwest corner of the U.S. 69 and Shawnee Bypass intersection. The fair market value for the nearly six-acre parcel was appraised at more than $1.03 million.

Buckley cited state law that authorizes intergovernmental transfers of property outside the competitive bidding process. He based his offer on the assumption “that surplus real property can generally not be sold below 80 percent of fair market value.”  

 County commissioners, who plan to consider the offer when they meet next Monday, said getting the land back into production would have a positive impact. But they expressed some reservation about the city’s opening offer.

Commissioner Chairman Stephen Wright, District 2, said he “would like to have the full appraisal price” for what he described as “highly desirable property.”

“They will have to explain to me why they need it (the property) for that (price),” Wright said. “If they are going to turn around and get a big profit on it, I don’t know.”

City councilors on Monday night approved the Muskogee Redevelopment Authority’s request to issue a note for $1.1 million to secure a loan from the City of Muskogee Foundation. Proceeds from the loan would be used to acquire the county-owned property if a sales price can be negotiated.

Commissioners Gene Wallace, District 1, and Dexter Payne, District 3, said they would like to sell the county-owned tract and get it back on the tax rolls. They cited new job opportunities and a broader tax base as potential benefits of an immediate sell, but they tempered their optimism with concerns about protecting assets that belong to taxpayers.

“I would like to see something built on that corner because it would pump a lot of tax dollars into the city and the county,” Payne said. “But I certainly don’t want to sell somebody a piece of property at a discounted price that they could make a big profit on.”

Wallace, who has said on several occasions commissioners have no interest in being “in the land business,” said he would like to “get it sold and back into production.” That desire, Wallace said, must be balanced with the interests of county taxpayers who essentially own the property.

“The long-term benefit — regardless of whoever ends up with it — will be generating something into the economy that will provide jobs and a broader tax base,” Wallace said. “There is a lot of benefit to somebody owning it and putting it back into production rather than having it just sitting there.”

Mayor Bob Coburn, when asked whether there was room for negotiations, said he sees the city’s offer as a “win-win situation” for both the county and the city. Retail development anticipated at the busy intersection would increase the city’s sales tax revenue, and the county would benefit from increased property tax collections.

“The land has been out there for a long time and nothing has happened,” Coburn said about the county-owned land that once was part of a highway expansion project. “We would like to get the property to where we can facilitate an opportunity, and we are moving in that direction.”

Wallace shared Coburn’s sentiment, saying commissioners “are trying to do something positive” and trust city officials to do the same. Coburn said neither the city nor the county “wants to do anything that is unreasonable or unfair in any way.”

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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