DANVILLE, IL. (ECWd) –
Vermilion County Land Grab: The giving away of county real estate. Part 1.
In order to better inform our readers, we decided to do a series of articles related to the gift of county property to a private individual. It is a series because it is too important a story to not write every part in detail.
CASH OFFERS REJECTED – COUNTY CHOSE TO GIVE IT AWAY
Let’s start by stating this: There were several cash offers tendered on this property, the highest offer ended up being $25,000, but the county board hammered the nail in the coffin; the end result was using this property as a gift.
Think about that before continuing…
THE PROPOSAL: “Attempt to Confuse”
We first learned of an attempt at giving public property away during a county board meeting where a resolution was approved declaring the farm ground real estate as surplus property and authorizing its sale at an auction (here).
The scheduled auction did not bring the minimum bids set by the county. Another resolution was made to seek out someone who would purchase the property for their minimum price of $10,000 per acre. A hand written “proposal” was submitted which stated:
$ 1,139,470.00 for the farm ground. Please ask the board to consider adding the additional non-tillable real estate to this purchase offer. Since they only asked to board to consider the additional property, they effectively said “We will still buy the farm ground for the stated price either way“.
A motion brought to the county board in June 2014. After a spirited debate in which Chairman Weinard stated at least three times that the sale of the farm ground IS NOT contingent on the addition of the surplus land, the board voted 15 – 8 in favor of violating the law, declaring a parcel of real estate as surplus, and GIVING it FREE of charge, to the purchaser of the adjacent farm ground (here). The board attorney, Assistant State’s Attorney Bill Donahue also admitted during the meeting that the purchase and purchase price of the farm ground was not contingent upon the additional non-tillable acreage. The minutes for the June 10, 2014 meeting are here, and this subject starts on page 13.
There is some interesting language on page 17 of the minutes and is part of the resolution that reads:
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED,
that the approximate four acres immediately behind the animal shelter be determined as surplus property and that it be made available for transfer to the purchaser of the County farm should such transfer be appropriate or that a permanent easement be allowed inasmuch as the land is surplus and not needed for a public purpose.
Does this wording reveal a moment of indecision on whether the land can be given away free of charge or not?
Additionally, during an interview Vermilion County Board Chairman stated that “an additional three to four acres of land adjacent to the northside tract may be given to that buyer“.
Here is something to think about: If the farm ground was to bring in $ 1,139,470.00 with or without the additional property, then isn’t “including” the additional property considered a gift?
THE PRESENTATION TOWARDS THE PROPOSAL
“The Misinformation Campaign”
Initially, the non-tillable acreage was presented to the board as filled with trash, a large ravine, land locked, a site where people had dumped their trash, and a barn that needed torn down…basically useless property that was a potential legal and financial nightmare for the residents of Vermilion County. The board also kept saying they were getting an additional $214,000 in a confusion attempt.
Ask yourself this: If it was in such bad shape why would the farm property purchasers want this also? There is already natural drainage into the low-lying areas that cannot be blocked by any future owner.
“TRUTH SHOWS UP”
This could not be further from the truth! Several people, including us, made a site visit to the property. There is a barn with concrete block walls and a roof that leaks on the small addition that was added years after the barn was originally built. The only “trash” was a mattress and other trash, already in a pile, that a small dumpster could have taken care of. The “ravine” is a small ditch, easily navigatable with an SUV, motorcycle, or with little additional work – a car. Not the typical mental picture that comes with the word “ravine”. The rest of the property was in really nice shape; shade trees, mowed paths, asphalt circle driveway, plenty of highway access on Tilton-Catlin Road, adjacent to a field and also to the county animal shelter. Nicely secluded, but very much worth $30,000 – $50,000 any day of the week.
The additional $214,000 the board kept harping on had absolutely nothing to do with this additional acreage. It was an increase in the price of the farm ground from the failed auction.
The real estate as sold and given away was never offered to the public in the configuration this transaction dealt with. Nobody else had the opportunity for this real estate.
The Law Relating to County Owned Real Estate
Illinois Counties Code, 55 ILCS 5/5-1005:
Sec. 5-1005. Powers. Each county shall have power:
2. To sell and convey or lease any real or personal estate owned by the county.
3. To make all contracts and do all other acts in relation to the property and concerns of the county necessary to the exercise of its corporate powers.
Did you see anything stating they can GIVE real estate away? Neither did I.
Read more here…
OTHER OPINIONS ON COUNTY OWNED REAL ESTATE
• A 1974 Illinois Attorney General Opinion to Peoria County and quoting from Sherlock v Village of Winnetka where it was stated: “they are bound to administer property faithfully, honestly and justly, and if it [public entity] is guilty of a breach of trust by disposing of its valuable property for little or no consideration, it is regarded as acting on behalf of an individual. Using forms of legislation in committing such breach of trust does not make any difference in the act. It will not be considered an exercise of political power for public purposes, and the privilege of exemption from judicial interference terminates where legislative action ends”.
• A different Illinois Supreme Court decision enjoined Cook County from disposing of real estate without seeking full price by stating: “it must be sold for the most that it can bring at market”.
• When asked about renting or gifting the rent, the statement is: “the county does not have the power to make gifts or donations”’
COMMUNICATIONS WITH ASSISTANT STATE’S ATTORNEY
After the vote on the resolution declaring the additional approximately 4 acres as surplus, several people email Donahue seeking information about this resolution.
Part 2 in this series will cover these emails and Donahue’s responses to questions.