With Councilman Chris Wizner out of town, the council’s four remaining members failed to reach a consensus on a motion dealing with a nearly two-acre strip of land along Richard D. Sailors Parkway, which runs parallel to the Silver Comet Trail.
Council members explained the contentious vote involved two motions bundled together: one to approve an additional appraisal of the surplused land, which the city is in the process of attempting to sell off to a private buyer, and one to reject all bids made on the land thus far in order to seek new ones.
With two council members on either side of the issue, Vaughn cast the decisive vote to decline bids on the table and hire a second appraiser.
“It had been appraised in 2009, and that’s what we were going by,” explained Councilwoman Nancy Hudson, who voted against the motion. “But the bids were coming in low, so that’s why we wanted to reappraise it.”
Hudson said she opposed the motion because the two initiatives were joined together, and she took issue with spending the $1,200 to $1,500 officials estimate a second appraisal would cost the city.
All four council members agreed bids made on the land had to be rejected because state regulations prevent the city from selling the property at too low a price.
But the council broke on whether Powder Springs taxpayers should fund another appraisal.
“I did not think it was appropriate,” said Councilman Al Thurman, who also voted against the motion. “Why would the city pay for an appraisal for a private individual to buy when there’s been appraisals already?”
Councilwoman Rosalyn Neal, who voted in favor of the bid rejection and appraisal, defended her decision to tie the two motions together on the council floor.
“We’re doing our due diligence for the taxpayers,” she said of the council’s proposal to reappraise the land.
Brad Husley, Powder Springs’ city manager, said the 2009 appraisal valued the land at $260,000 after the city declared the property surplus and began the process of allowing the community to place bids. Husley explained state statutes require cities like Powder Springs to sell such surplus property at the value it was assigned the year it was surplused.
In other words, even though five years have elapsed since the strip was set aside for bidding, the city must sell the land at the 2009 price.
Exceptions can lower the minimum acceptable bid, Husley noted, such as discounts the city can apply to the price — ranging anywhere from eight to 45 percent — based on market trends that existed in the year the land was surplused.
Husley said a 30 percent discount allowed the city to offer the land for $183,000, but the two submitted bids still fell far short of the amount the city is allowed to accept. Even with an additional 15 percent discount that brought the bar down to $155,500, Husley said the city has been unable to unload the land.
The likely reason, Husley explained, is that the property’s value has actually depreciated since it was surplused.
“The council had a concern that perhaps the first appraisal was too high,” he said of the council’s ultimate decision to pursue a second appraisal.
Vaughn agreed the initial appraisal’s resulting high price tag is hindering efforts to redevelop the land.
“You have to (re)appraise the property to rebid it; if not, you’re doing the same thing you were doing before,” she explained.
Husley said the newly-approved assessment, which Vaughn estimated would be commissioned in the next few weeks, will still look at the property’s 2009 value. It will simply provide the city with a second opinion of how much they can legally allow developers to bid.
“This gives an opportunity to show to any potential purchaser that we didn’t just lay all of our stock into one appraisal,” Hulsey said of the decision.
“What we did was in the best interest of the city,” said Councilwoman Cheryl Sarvis, who voted in favor of the motion. “We like to be good stewards if the city’s money.”
Sarvis cited the state’s tight regulations as a reason why she supported funding a second appraisal.
Hulsey said he thinks the council will likely select the lower of the two property valuations in order to expedite development on the roadside strip.
Vaughn’s move represents a rarity in city politics, as councils are generally comprised of an odd number of officials to prevent ties from occurring.
In many cases, individual city charters stipulate the mayor must cast the deciding vote, though such situations rarely surface.
“It happens once every 10 years or so,” said Smyrna Councilman Wade Lnenicka, who has served on the city council for 27 years.
He noted Mayor Max Bacon “actively” participates in the council’s discussions and often makes his positions known to its seven members, but has seldom been required to cast a vote.
Kennesaw Councilman Tim Killingsworth agreed a mayoral tie-breaker is almost never necessary on his city council.
“It’s pretty rare,” Killingsworth explained. “From what I gather, it doesn’t appear to be often. That’s the reason the charters are built the way they are.”
Killingsworth recalled the last time Mayor Mark Mathews had to sway an evenly divided council was in the wake of Councilman Bill Thrash’s death last summer, when members were split over an interim appointment to fill Thrash’s seat.
Despite the fractured opinions of her city’s council, Vaughn said she sensed no tension among members following Monday’s vote.
“We know that we’re not going to always agree on things,” she said. “I went with what I felt was the best and most fair for everyone and for the city and anyone that might be interested in the land.”
Sarvis said she couldn’t recall an instance when Vaughn had needed to cast a deciding vote in her nearly five years on the council, but that she knew Vaughn has had to fill that role before.
“I think she did the appropriate thing,” Sarvis said. “I support the mayor doing that.”
Thurman and Hudson, who ended up in the losing minority after Vaughn’s intervention, maintained their desire to have seen the pair of initiatives separated into two motions so they could have voted on them individually.
“That would have made the most sense,” Thurman noted.
But Vaughn’s decision tipped the scale in favor of a new approach to selling the swath of unsold land, despite the misgivings of half the present council.
“It is what is,” Hudson said. “All you can do is vote the way you feel.”