Park board wants land sale money reserved for parks

Friday, July 18, 2008
KIT DOYLE ~ kdoyle@semissourian.com The football game of fourth graders from West Lane Elementary took them past the property line at Cape Girardeau County Park North Wednesday, May 7, 2008 that the County Commission is selling to Drury Corp.

The Cape Girardeau County Board of Park Commissioners wants the county commission to set aside the $350,000 purchase price for a strip of county park land into a separate account to make the fund's balance easier to track.

The decision, to be presented as a request to the county commission, came after a discussion of the land sale that will turn 1.24 acres of Cape County Park North over to Midamerica Hotels. When the county commission voted 2-1 last week to approve the sale, it struck a provision from the sale contract that would have restricted their use of the money to park purposes. While the park board members said they believed a commission promise to set the money aside, they noted that future commissioners will not be required to abide by that decision.

At least one commission seat will change hands this fall when voters select a replacement for District 1 Commissioner Larry Bock. And Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones has said he does not intend to run for re-election in 2010.

"Does this mean we don't trust them?" board chairman Joe Sherinski asked member R.J. McKinney, who opposed the sale and said he believes the property was sold below its value.

"No," McKinney replied. "It just means we want the money segregated."

An appraisal prepared for the county pegged the stand-alone value of the land at $250,000. The same appraisal said the land also adds to the value of the adjacent land already owned by Midamerica, making the "assemblage" value of the land $370,000 to $430,000. Midamerica has not announced what it intends to do with the property, which is adjacent to Center Junction.

Under the contract signed by the commission, the $350,000 to be paid by Midamerica Hotels is general revenue, available for any purpose. The commissioners struck the restrictive provision based on advice from attorney John Lichtenegger, who said the restriction would create difficulties if the county found itself needing cash.

The board members also discussed what they would like to see done with the money. Park superintendent Bruce Watkins said he generally has no difficulty obtaining funds from the commission for routine issues, such as roof repairs or other maintenance needs.

"I believe this money is better kept for land purchases," Watkins said.

The discussion then ranged to ideas for the best place to establish a new county park. There is land adjacent to Cape County Park North that is for sale, but the asking price is about $2 million and the owner does not want to split the parcel, Watkins said.

The best property, Watkins said, would be land that has hills and woods for trails and places to establish fishing ponds.

The board also discussed the process that led to the sale and potential Sunshine Law compliance issues. The board held a meeting in May but did not disclose it until afterward, with Sherinski saying at the time that he wanted to keep the media out of the meeting. District 2 Commissioner Jay Purcell, who has said he now questions the legality of his one-on-one meetings with each park board member in January and February to discuss the sale, attended the board meeting. He said he will suggest that all county boards receive training in Sunshine Law compliance to prevent future problems.

Sherinski told the board that any problems with Sunshine Law compliance were not intentional. "When I accepted membership on this board, nobody said there were regulations or rules to obey."

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

Strip of land sold

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