By DOTTY NIST
Procedures are now in place for Walton County to follow when the county acquires or disposes of property
Previously no such standards had been part of Walton County Code. They were added through an ordinance approved by the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) at its June 26 regular meeting at the Walton County Courthouse in DeFuniak Springs.
The ordinance states that the BCC will consider all requests for property acquisition and approve these requests when they are found to be in the best interest of the county—and found to provide for a public purpose. A public purpose is defined as one with the objective of promoting “public health, safety, morals, general welfare, security, prosperity and contentment of the residents of the County and not the welfare of an individual or a specific class of persons.”
The ordinance tasks the county administrator or his designee with obtaining appropriate appraisals, environmental assessments, determination of other associated costs, and with identification of the “selling party.” This information is to be provided to the BCC “as an agenda item at a noticed meeting for consideration.” Upon authorization of the BCC at that meeting, the county administrator/designee is to provide the terms of the county’s offer to the seller and negotiate any terms “which may differ from the Board’s approved price and conditions.”
Information from this contact by the administrator/designee with the seller is then to be provided to the BCC as an agenda item at a publicly-noticed meeting, resulting in the negotiated terms being accepted, rejected, or amended. If the terms are rejected or amended, the administrator/designee is to be authorized to again provide the county’s terms to the seller and engage in negotiations as previously. Upon acceptance of the negotiated terms by the BCC in public session, the county administrator and county attorney are to be tasked with determining closing procedures, preparing closing documents, and providing documentation that the seller agrees to those documents.
The ordinance specifies that the closing documents are to be provided to the BCC at a noticed meeting for consideration. Upon the BCC’s acceptance of terms associated with those documents, the BCC chairman is to be authorized to sign the documents.
The ordinance provides for the process of a transaction to cease at any step if there is a majority vote calling for it to do so.
Responsibilities outlined for the county administrator in connection with these transactions are providing the county’s ordinance and procedures for property transactions to all departments that are involved, maintenance of all documents related to transactions, and hiring experts as necessary, other than attorneys and title companies. to assist.
Responsibilities outlined for the county attorney are advising the BCC on property transactions, ordering and reviewing title opinions, advising the BCC on insurance coverage requirements, drafting documents for transactions, conducting closings, and hiring attorneys or other experts as necessary to assist.
The ordinance provides for the exemption of a property transaction from its terms by the commissioners if they determine that the property in question is “needed for county, state, or federal right of way, is less than one acre in total transaction size, and has an estimated value of less than $25,000 for the total transaction.”
The ordinance also sets standards for disposition of county property, beginning with a determination by the BCC in accordance with section 125.379, Florida Statures, as to which county-owned properties are to be designated as surplus.
The need for an ordinance governing property transactions was highlighted in fall 2011, when questions were raised about irregularities with the county’s $345,000 purchase, almost a year earlier, of a 0.45-acre parcel at the corner of U.S. 331 and Chat Holley Road for right-of-way improvements. Questions and allegations about the purchse had resulted in the BCC ordering an investigation of the transaction by independent counsel, The investigation had yielded recommendations for property transaction procedures, and those recommendations were used as a basis for the ordinance. By vote of the BCC, since fall 2011 land purchases by the county had remained on hold, pending the property transaction procedures being adopted.