February 28, 2024

Supervisors disagree over sale of small property acquired by county

Jasper County invested $16K into cleanup, officials at odds over recouping costs

The Jasper County Board of Supervisors disagreed over the sale of a small piece of property west of Lambs Grove, which has since been acquired and abated by the county.

Disagreements over the sale of a small piece of property that was cleaned up at Jasper County’s expense has supervisors at a standstill.

While they all see the value in abating abandoned properties, they are split over the supposed return on investment since no one except one neighbor seems interested in buying the property to begin with, and the bids he submitted are not covering the costs Jasper County put into cleaning the parcel.

The 0.22-acre lot, located at 248 Hickory St., just to the west of the Lambs Grove city limits, measures 48 feet by 195 feet, for a total of 9,360 square feet. Buddy Cupples, the neighbor interested in the property, owns a similarly sized lot due south, and it is valued at roughly $5,000. Buddy bid $8,000 for the property.

Which was the exact same bid the county received the last time it was out for bid. Supervisor Doug Cupples said the property was valued at more than $11,000 with the trailer on it, but now its assessed value has decreased to more than $6,700. Doug said Buddy would technically be overpaying for the lot.

Supervisor Brandon Talsma argued the assessed value does not factor in the cleanup costs of the property, which rounded out to $16,000. Talsma said if he was to buy a piece of farmland and invested $20,000 to improve it, he would not then sell it for $10,000 and make no money. He would, at the very least, recoup costs.

“No, you wouldn’t do that, because you guys are a business,” Doug said. “We’re a government, and we went in and took this property and made it such that now it’s cleaned up and ready to go. He (Buddy) would have bought it had he had the opportunity to buy it. My opinion is we should take that $8,000 and not sit on it.”

Talsma disagreed. “I think we need to sit on it because the whole idea of it is just because we’re not a business … doesn’t mean that we don’t need to worry about overhead or costs or sustainability of the program. It doesn’t mean we can automatically accept the mentality of, ‘Oh it doesn’t matter if we turn a profit.’”

Still, Doug argued Jasper County did not think ahead enough when acquiring the property and putting money into it. And the spot it is in, he added, is also not an attractive place to build a home. Talsma said most of the properties the county acquires through its abandoned properties program are not attractive.

Kevin Luetters, director of community development, said his department has received calls from residents asking about the status of the property, but none expressed any interest in submitting a bid besides Buddy, who did state at the Jan. 23 supervisors meeting he intended to build a shed if his bid was accepted.

Talsma suggested that alone would not generate enough tax revenue to justify a purchase price well below the costs of cleanup.

“If this is something that’s going to be generating $4,000 or $6,000 or $8,000 a year in property taxes, then OK, that’s a fair conversation to be had,” he said. “But if we’re not recouping the costs on property taxes and we’re not recouping costs of the lot, I don’t think we should be operating at an $8,000 loss.”

Doug did not disagree, but he argued the supervisors need to think about these issues the next time they decide to acquire a piece of property. If the county was a business, it would have never taken the property unless there was a way to invest in it and make money. But Doug said it’s not going to make money.

“It’s not going to let us break even and it’s going to be years and years and years before it does, because it is just not in the right spot,” Doug said.

Talsma asserted most properties are going to end up like this, and that there are reasons why properties such as this are abandoned and not selling. He asked what Doug’s plan of action would be for the other, similarly conditioned parcels that will likely be acquired by the county at some point in time.

“I’m saying this is not a program that is going to have immediate payoffs,” Talsma said. “We have to be patient with it and we have to keep the long game in mind. Government is horribly, horribly, horribly short-sighted and we never look more than two years down the road. That’s not what this program is for.”

Doug said it is a big gamble for the county to take a property and sit on it for several years. He also worried the costs of keeping the properties maintained, but Talsma countered that mowing the property should be no issue. Still, Doug maintained he was opposed to the county keeping the property.

Supervisor Denny Stevenson said the county should place minimums on bids, but he also questioned the wisdom of keeping the property. At the meeting, Doug asked Buddy directly if he would be willing to raise his bid. Although he was a bit apprehensive, Buddy agreed to increase his bid to $10,000.

“I think the most I would ever bump that up to would be $10,000, and that’s, to me, twice as much because I know what I pay for mine and what mine’s assessed at. So I guess that would be my final on that,” Buddy said to the board of supervisors, to which Doug was in favor of accepting. Talsma wasn’t.

Ultimately, Talsma wants to break even as much as possible when it comes to the sales of the abandoned properties the county has acquired. Stevenson said the $10,000 bid was a moot point to him, because the county’s minimum bid was $16,000. To him, the county needs to stick to its guns.

“When we put a minimum bid on it, it should mean something,” Stevenson said.

Talsma sought Luetter’s input on the matter. While Luetters said he understands Talsma’s idea to hold the property to see what could happen down the road, he does worry about ongoing costs to maintain the property. Doug made a motion to accept Buddy’s $10,000 bid, but it failed due to a lack of a second.

Stevenson motioned that sometime in the future when the county decides to sell the property to not put a minimum bid attached to it and that it can reject any bids received. Regardless of whether the county puts a minimum bid on the sale, Stevenson suggested supervisors need to follow through with what was put out.

The motion was later amended to indicate the supervisors would reject the current bid, put the property out for bid again with no minimum bid attached and also withhold the right to refuse any bids. The motion passed in a 2-1 vote, with Talsma and Stevenson voting in favor and Doug voting against.

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.