The recession may be officially over, but its effects were in the forefront at Tuesday's Crow Wing County Board meeting.
The former Deals and Steals building, on Baxter Drive in Baxter, may have been living up to its name. The county purchased the property, which is just off Highway 210 by Imgrund Motors, when the plan was to extend County Highway 48. That plan was eventually scrapped for a Cypress Drive extension. Tuesday commissioners were divided on the question of whether to sell the land now for less than its estimated value or keep it until the economic climate improves. In the end, they voted 3-2 to approve the sale.
Tim Bray, highway engineer, estimated the property was originally purchased for about $200,000 with the county in partnership on the deal with the Minnesota Department of Transportation. That was before the recession and the free-fall in the real estate market. The county tried to sell the site with its building, which was in disrepair but there were no takers. The county paid about $25,000 to have the building - which was considered a liability - removed recently and regraded and cleared the site. The county put the site up for sale again. This time there were two bids - for $10,000 and $40,219.
Staff members recommended the board reject the two bids. Bray said the estimated property's value is more than twice the highest bid and he was concerned with getting a better return for the taxpayers' investment. Staff members recommended holding on to the property until the economic conditions improved and the land could be put out again for sale in a year or more. The county noted in offering the land that it was reserving the right to reject bids. It did not list a minimum bid.
Gary Scheeler, Brainerd business owner and former Brainerd City Council member, was the high bidder on the property. Scheeler said he couldn't reveal his plans for the site yet, but he researched the market. He said the county was pricing its land too high.
Scheeler said the peak market experienced in the lakes area is a time people probably won't see again in a lifetime and people paid too much for land. Now, Scheeler said, they need to swallow that loss and go with the time, including himself.
If anyone overpays in these times, it will be hard to build on the site, Scheeler said.
In response to Bray's comments about protecting the taxpayer, Administrator Tim Houle said everyone was trying to do that. Houle told the board the decision had to be based on incomplete information because no one knows now if holding on to the property will bring better prices in the near future. Board members noted if there was a buyer, there would also be tax income.
Commissioner Paul Thiede said he didn't know how the county could reject the bid without a minimum bid. Thiede said he was disappointed the Brainerd Lakes Chamber wasn't there to weigh in on the subject. Houle said the chamber wasn't notified as no one anticipated a request for chamber comment.
Chairman Phil Trusty's call for a motion one way or the other was met with silence. When asked if commissioners needed more information, Commissioner Doug Houge drew laughs when he said he wanted to know where the economy was going.
"You could certainly direct staff to flip a coin," Houle said.
Commissioners Rachel Reabe Nystrom noted the staff recommendation to wait. And Commissioner Rosemary Franzen pointed to the county's estimated market value of $93,900 for the site. Thiede said he wasn't going to make a motion, but he did second when Houge moved to accept Scheeler's bid. Commissioners split on the issue with Nystrom and Franzen against and Thiede and Houge in favor leaving Trusty to break the tie and approve the sale.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.