County makes all the right real estate moves

APPARENTLY, TO SOME COUNTY Board supervisors, the county should not be in the business of buying and selling property – even if it leads to development and an increase in the property tax rolls.

At their July meeting, the County Board approved several real estate transactions, including selling the Elkhart Lake Highway Department shed to Sargento and purchasing three homes on Pennsylvania Avenue in the city of Sheboygan.

The sale to Sargento won’t be completed until after the county’s new Highway Department headquarters building in the town of Plymouth is completed, sometime next year.

That sale brings Sargento and the county full circle, as the cheese company had sought to purchase the property in the mid-1990s for expansion at that time, but the deal fell through when the two sides could not reach agreement on potential remediation of the site in time to meet Sargento’s timeframe for expansion. The result was Sargento building a plant in Kiel that is still a vital part of that city’s economy.

That sale should have engendered complete support, since the county will receive more than the appraised value of the property from Sargento, while the property, no matter what Sargento eventually does with it, will got back on the tax rolls – generating property taxes that it does not now. And should Sargento use the property for a major expansion project, the tax benefit that accrues will be all that much greater.

The other transaction involved the county buying three run-down residences on Pennsylvania Avenue adjacent to an under-utilized county employee parking lot.

The eventual goal of the deal, orchestrated by County Planning and Conservation Director Aaron Brault, is to create one large lot that the county can sell to a developer for redevelopment.

The county already has three potential developers interested in the project and, whatever the final outcome, it will be a much better use of the property than at present. And again, it will add to the local property tax rolls at a higher total value – and tax proceeds – than at present.

It fell to the county to put this package together, as the county parking lot constitutes the majority of the final parcel. Since it is an under-utilized employee parking lot – perhaps a good indicator of how well the county has controlled costs by reducing employment, that a lot once needed for employee parking is no longer needed – any development that comes will be a better use as well.

County officials deserve praise for their efforts to return unneeded public property to private ownership while fostering potential beneficial private development in both cases. That should have earned full support from the County Board.

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