By: Steve Trubilla
On Aug. 4, 2014, the Franklin County commissioners voted 6-1 to purchase Bull Creek Golf and Country Club. Commissioner Harry Foy was the dissenting vote. This action resulted in an unnecessary, major unfunded liability that will burden the Franklin County taxpayer for generations into the future. Why was this done? On the surface, you are told it was to create a recreational park to honor Edgar H. Owens's parents, V.E. and Lydia H. Owens.
In January 2010, the late Edgar H. Owens willed 80 percent of his estate, an amount reported to have been nearly one million dollars, to be used for the creation of such a park. Owens' wishes included, if possible, the park includes a fishing pond with any remaining funds to be used to help maintain the park.
What a benevolent and generous gift it was; a timeless tribute to his parents.
The abundance of land available in Franklin County and the funding he provided allowed for his wishes to easily have been done. Franklin County Manager Angela Harris stated in a news release the county was using funds donated by Owens for the creation of the park.
Anyone reading the news release or following the matter would have been left with the understanding this was not going to cost taxpayers anything. With the exception that reasonable people would expect well into the future, there would be maintenance considerations.
As business transactions go, this was not hard, or so one would think. Simply a matter of finding the land and establishing the park within the provided resources with an eye on honoring Owens' wishes. A win-win for everyone.
Many years have since passed, the park is not completed and there is no completion date in sight. Owens's gift has been used or committed. It may now cost millions to complete this park, if ever completed at all.
Going back to the question of why did the elected officials purchase this land? Was there an overwhelming request by the public to build this or any other park? Some interest yes, but overwhelming, no.
A good deal is a good deal until it is no longer a good deal. If someone offers you a recent blue ribbon winning Black Angus bull as a breeder for $1,000 that is a good deal.
When you go to pick him you and find he is a steer, you do not go through with the deal. Well, you might If you did not know what you were doing.
The purchase of this land by Franklin County for a park was a good deal, but not for you. You got a "bum steer," and that is "no-bull."
Bull Creek Golf Course and Country Club was in financial collapse. It was reported foreclosure was underway by First Citizens Bank for an outstanding note of about $794,000.
A review indicates the property was actually scheduled twice for foreclosure sale on the courthouse steps. Both times those sales were canceled. At least one other person from Virginia was interested in purchasing the property but at a considerably lesser amount. Others were interested in the property as well.
When a lien holder forecloses on property it can be purchased at a bargain by the highest bidder. This would have resulted in a loss by First Citizens Bank, and clearly not in their best interest for it to happen. However, it would have been in the best interest of the people of Franklin County as the property would be generating tax revenue if it remained in private hands. That property now has an estimated tax value of $1.4 million. Had the property been foreclosed upon, it is reasonable to assume the county could have purchased it at a much lower price than it paid.
So why didn't that happen? Could it be that others in the decision-making process had an interest in seeing that it did not? At that time no less than three sitting county commissioners did. If you follow the money it is boldly clear.
To allow for the purchase of the property by Franklin County the property was taken out of foreclosure. Much of the negotiations for the purchase were done behind closed doors. As details found their way to the public, citizens began to speak out.
The offer to purchase was outrageously made without even the benefit of an appraisal. Why was that done? The lack of an appraisal touched a nerve with Louisburg resident Pat Walker. "I have some concerns about this," Walker told commissioners and the public at a commissioners' meeting.
Before the board went into closed session at that meeting to discuss the purchase and then vote on it in open session, County Attorney Pete Tomlinson said the board was not at liberty to talk about why an appraisal was not done.
Not at liberty to tell the public?
To be continued ...