3-2 vote in favor of bid application
ECB Publishing, Inc.
Forty acres of land, bordering the Jefferson Somerset school campus, is currently up for bid after an interested party contacted the Jefferson County School Board (JCSB), asking for an opportunity to lease the land.
The property, which is a total of 40.12 acres and valued at $200,600 (according to the Jefferson County Property Appraiser's land map), is located at the corner of Phelps Road and Old Drifton Road.
The property borders the southern boundary line where the Jefferson Somerset campus is located.
During the March 2019 meeting earlier this year, Buford Reedy and David Barnhart came before the JCSB to discuss the possibilities of leasing the land.
Barnhart and Reedy were given permission by the school board members to prepare and present a lease document, which the board members could view and base a decision upon.
Buford and Reedy returned before the board members on the April meeting of the JCSB, on Monday, April 8, with a completed lease agreement.
The document laid out, in detail, how the property would be used, the rent amount which would be paid per year, and other additional terms.
According to the lease that was presented, the 40.12 acres of land would be rented out for $500 a year (with an additional upfront $500 security deposit at the start of the lease).
The lease would last until July of 2030 – a total of 11 years.
The land would be used for the farming of watermelons, livestock hay, and other agricultural cultivations.
Board member Charles Boland, who – during the March meeting – had voiced his interest in bidding out the land for lease or purchase options, addressed the estimated worth of the land.
“The property is appraised at $5,000 an acre,” said Boland, before strongly recommending that the board place the property up for bid before handing it off for 11 years at $500 a year. “We could use the money in our system.”
Board member Sandra Saunders felt differently, claiming that the land had been there for at least 20 years without anyone contacting the board during that time.
“Had anybody else been interested, I would have thought that they would have come tonight,” said Saunders. “It's been sitting up there forever and ever.”
Saunders also opposed Boland's recommendation of using a bid process to seek out a higher profit.
“I don't know what our district needs – we're not running a whole lot for us to need three or four million dollars here,” said Saunders, adding that she liked what Barnhart and Reedy were proposing to do, agriculturally, with the land. “I'm not for the bidding process at this point.”
After Saunders' statements, board member Bill Brumfield spoke up, advising that he was in support of Boland's recommendation to bid out the property before signing a lease agreement.
“I think that we need to advertise and give people a chance to say something – we can put it off for one more month, but I think we need to advertise,” said Brumfield.
Board chairperson Shirley Washington, who had up to this moment remained silent with the exception of complimenting Barnhart and Reedy on their well-prepared lease, joined the discussion.
“People knew that land was there,” said Washington. “It bothers me...that land could have laid there [for] 50 years, and until someone came and spoke about it, then everybody got interested. Then it's [all] money, money. The only thing I have heard about Jefferson County is about getting money for the county, money for the school system. No one has been concerned about the care, the safety and the educational curricular for these children.”
Further, Washington accused “people” of trying to contradict or hinder “what someone else is trying to do.”
“It's only ever about the dollar,” Washington rebuked, asking what the JCSB would do with more money.
“Fix the auditorium,” replied Boland, addressing the fact that the Kilpatrick Auditorium, located on Water Street, had been operating without a functioning air conditioning unit, as well as with multiple other maintenance issues for months.
“I respect that, but why don't a group of the citizens that [are] concerned about that go to the Department of Education (DOE) as a committee for Jefferson County...and get money to fix the auditorium if they are concerned?” asked Washington. “I agree, the auditorium does need air conditioning, but have you ever thought [about] organizing somebody, to just go to DOE? But no, we sit here and we bash and we talk and we criticize. I just don't believe in allowing people to keep this county down.”
“Ms. Washington, would it hurt to put it off for one month and put it up for bid, and then if anybody didn't bid on the property, then we would go into our contract with Mr. Barnhart?” asked Boland. “I'm just saying, I think we will be in trouble somewhere along the line, cause they will take this land and make a profit on it. I think we may be in trouble by not giving the citizens of Jefferson County – or any other county – the chance to look at the property and see that it is up for bid.”
Boland also stressed that he felt as though it would be difficult for the JCSB to obtain funding for other projects from the DOE, should they decide to continue “giving property away” instead of making profits on the properties the board owns.
“I don't think we are doing the citizens of Jefferson County justice by not putting this up for bid.”
Board member Brumfield rejoined the conversation, saying: “I don't want to do something that will come back and bite us.”
Brumfield shared that, if the board did decide to bid out the property and not receive any acceptable bids, he would be more than supportive about handing the property over to the Barnhart/Reedy group.
Brumfield also declared that he had not been aware, after the March meeting, that the JCSB would be voting so quickly on the lease agreement with Barnhart and Reedy. Some of the school board members did not receive the agenda packets containing the lease until the Friday before the meeting, and others echoed Brumfield's surprise that the contract had already been placed before them for an official vote.
“I did not know we were voting on this tonight,” said Brumfield. “I'm going to vote no until we do [things] the right way. I want to do what's right for this county.”
Superintendent Marianne Arbulu advised the board that, around a year ago, the state's Department of Education requested that the school district look at all its properties and decide which properties would be held or sold.
The board had agreed to classify the Old Drifton/Phelps property as a hold.
“We never articulated why,” said Arbulu. “It may behoove us to think about what is it that these properties are intended [for], what their intended use should be.”
Maintaining a role as a peacemaker, Arbulu claimed that both sides made valid opinions about either moving forward or waiting to find the best financial offer.
“We're strapped for cash, we don't have students, a future, any plan for growth,” added Arbulu before confirming that she would provide assistance for whatever the JCSB needed and decided.
Gladys Roann-Watson, the only board member yet to vie in, spoke up.
“I am on the same page as Mr. Brumfield and Mr. Boland,” said Roann-Watson. “I am of the opinion that we could hold off another 30 days. Since it's been sitting out there that long, I don't think 30 days will make that much difference.”
Upon Saunders request for clarification, School Board Attorney Reeves advised that there is no state statute that requires them to bid out for leases, however, Reeves did advise that bidding out would be his suggestion.
Reeves also addressed the difference between this lease and the Jefferson Elementary School lease, which had been given to a private religious organization for $1 earlier this year.
While the religious group planned to use the elementary school to improve the community through the provision of programs, child care, job training and more, the Phelps land would be used for private purposes, and the only benefit the school district would receive was through rental payments.
“The only benefit there is, is to receive money,” said Reeves. “In my opinion, you should bid it out, because how else do you know you've gotten the best deal for the district?”
With the discussion primarily concluded, School board chairperson Washington called for a vote in favor of approving the lease agreement with Barnhart and Reedy.
Shirley Washington and Sandra Saunders voted in favor of the lease.
Bill Brumfield, Gladys Roann-Watson and Charles Boland voted against the lease.
With a 2-3 tally, the vote failed.
With the vote behind them, Brumfield again suggested that the board look towards advertising the property for bids.
Brumfield made a motion for the property to be bid out as a lease, and advertised right away, with Roann-Watson seconding the motion.
Before a vote could be taken, Shirley Washington criticized the board for 'flickering' on how they process and handle leases.
“I always like to be fair, honest and consistent,” said Washington, claiming that the board complicates the lease process for some people, but not for others.
The vote was held, with Bill Brumfield, Gladys Roann-Watson and Charles Boland voting for the advertising of bids, and Shirley Washington and Sandra Saunders voting in opposition.
With the decision approved for the opening the Phelps property for bids from the community, the JCSB decided to accept bids until May 6.
Bids will be publically opened on May 7 and voted on at next board meeting, on May 13.
All bids must include the rental amount, which shall be no less than $500 a year (which is a little over $12 a year per acre).
Proposal specifications can be received by contacting Superintendent Arbulu at (850) 342-0100 or Marianne.Arbulu@jeffersonschooldistrict.org.