The Greenbrier County Commission approved to purchase a three-acre property in Maxwelton in a split vote at the Tuesday morning commission meeting.
The property, which once housed the old Maxwelton school, was offered by the Greenbrier County Board of Education (BOE) for $240,000, which the county will use to extend 911 Center services.
Prior to the vote, a threatening letter from BOE attorney Jason Long very nearly soured the deal. In terse terms, Long’s letter affirmed that he was directed by the board to inform the commission to put the proposed contract for action on the agenda of the next possible commission meeting. If not done so, the contract agreement would be rescinded. And, further, if the contract was not approved by a majority vote, then the 911 Center would have to vacate the premises.
“In other words,” said Commissioner Mike McClung, “he’s telling us, if [we] don’t buy it, [they] won’t put it up for sale.”
The county has had a long-standing lease agreement with the BOE to house the 911 Center on the Maxwelton property for a dollar a year lease for 15 years, with five year extensions thereafter. That was in 1998, 20 years ago. When approached by the board to purchase the land, the county, needing to expand the 911 Center, was amenable to a possible purchase agreement. After a review of the property, all three commissioners agreed the price was about right.
McClung admitted Long’s letter did not sit well with him. He was willing to continue leasing the building, as they had for the past 20 years, and save the county a $240,000 purchase price in the bargain. He’d even considered declining BOE’s offer, put the property up for auction and bid on it. If another bidder got it, he said, then the county could buy it from them. Or, as a last resort, declare eminent domain and take the property.
Although all three commissioners had agreed, as Hanna noted, “It’s not a good idea to build a barn on someone else’s property,” he and Rose were more inclined to go along with the purchase.
Commissioner Lowell Rose agreed in part with McClung about the ill-conceived content and verbiage of the letter, he also addressed the investments the county had already made in the property, stating, “We have a million plus invested in the property. If we have to move the 911 Center, we could incur another two million. If we purchase the property, we can expand the center and use the two-acre balance for other purposes or entities.”
“The letter is troubling,” Hanna concurred, calling Long’s letter a form of bullying. “This is not the way you negotiate a deal,” he said. “My pride and ego have been stepped on, but, this is a unique opportunity to correct a situation created years ago when the property was first offered for sale.” Hanna said he would put aside his pride and vote to do what’s best for the citizens of Greenbrier County.
With minor amendments to the contract, specifically, to agree to finalize the purchase agreement no later than by the final county commission meeting of June 2019, the vote to accept the agreement from the BOE to purchase the Maxwelton property was approved with McClung opposing.
In other business:
- Homeland Security/911 Center Director Mike Honaker was approved to move part-time employee Kelsey Cook to a full-time position dispatcher.
- Paperwork issues have stalled the permit process of the original 16.7 miles of the Meadow River Trail (MRT), reports grant consultant Doug Hylton, who advised the commissioners to “get your pencils out” because the devil was in the details. Hylton expects a spring 2019 start date for the 16.7 mile trailway repair work. A shorter, 6.7 section, including another 1.42 mile section, taking the trail into Rainelle, will follow with even more permits and paperwork. Stay tuned.
- Hanna offered an update on the right to farm ordinance, tabled at the previous commission meeting, stating that after consulting with both county prosecutor Patrick Via and an attorney with WVU College of Law, he found that unless exact coding is used, the ordinance would likely get a legal challenge. Hanna said the WV Commission on Agriculture considers these out-of-state frivolous lawsuits against farmers a legislative state-wide priority to address. Counties have the option to adopt their own ordinances, he said, and perhaps one day, he will approach the commission with a recommendation to pass such an ordinance.
- The second and final commission meeting of the year will be held on Thursday, Dec. 27 at 10 a.m. at the county courthouse. In addition to the holiday closures of the courthouse this month, Hanna said the courthouse and circuit court will also be closed all day on both Christmas Eve, Dec. 24 and New Year’s Eve, Dec. 30, as directed by Gov. Jim Justice.