New policies on county property disposal

Published 9:43 pm Sunday, August 25, 2019

Polk approves new procedures for the sale of real and foreclosed property

COLUMBUS—Polk County employees and their spouses can no longer bid on surplus real property auctioned by the county. 

The Polk County Board of Commissioners met Monday and approved new policies and procedures for the sale of surplus real property and foreclosed properties. 

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Commissioners were originally considering not allowing county employees, their spouses, children, parents or grandchildren to purchase county-owned surplus property, but commissioners decided that would be too hard to enforce. The final decision was county officials, employees and their spouses be prohibited from purchasing surplus property. 

County attorney Jana Berg said she put in the clause regarding officials and employees at the direction of commissioners to avoid the appearance of impropriety. 

Commissioner Ray Gasperson said since there are a lot of extended families, including step-children and grandparents, that may be hard to enforce. 

Commissioner Chair Tommy Melton said a couple of years ago he was told about a piece of property that was going to be auctioned on the courthouse steps. Melton said he did his homework and was going to go place a bid. He decided to speak to county manager Marche Pittman prior to placing a bid and Pittman explained what the perception could be. Melton said the more he thought about it, the more he agreed with Pittman. 

Commissioner Paul Beiler asked how grandparents and children would be enforceable. 

“If it’s not enforceable, do we need to have it on the books?” Beiler asked. 

Melton said as with all policies, someone will find a way to circumvent the system, or at least they could. 

Gasperson said they could. An employee could get their second cousin to bid on a property, then a year or two later, that property gets transferred to that county employee. 

Pittman said if the county finds out early enough, commissioners could base that as a reason to reject the bid. 

The motion to approve the new policy was approved by a 4-1 vote, with Melton voting against. 

Commissioners also unanimously approved a new policy on foreclosed property to save time. The new policy allows for the county manager to get a list of properties and if the county manager determines the properties are of no value to the county, the county manager can put the properties up for bid, without having to first get commissioner approval. Once a bid comes in, commissioners will still accept or reject the bids. 

Commissioner David Moore asked how many properties the county has foreclosed currently. Polk County Tax Administrator Melissa Bowlin said currently about 11 properties. 

Melton said the main thing is transparency. He asked Pittman if he was comfortable with the new language. Pittman replied that at first he was not comfortable, but once he knew the board of commissioners accepts or rejects the bid he is fine with it.