Urbana City Council on Tuesday voted 6-1 in favor of authorizing Director of Administration Kerry Brugger to amend the existing contract with Hull and Associates Inc. for additional task orders in the amount of $19,100 for bid document preparation services and bid process assistance services for the Q3 JMC Redevelopment Project. Council member Al Evans was the lone dissenting vote.
Prior to placing the item on the floor for a vote, council and the administration engaged in a 50-minute discussion as to whether the city should proceed with trying to secure the property at 605 Miami St., which is headed to sheriff’s sale on Sept. 2.
“We’re not bidding on this property,” Brugger said. “If some ‘Joe public’ out there decides he wants to put up $268,000 (minimum bid) to take the property, we stop our processes, everything stops, and we let him deal with the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), county and everybody else.”
To date, city officials confirmed that roughly $40,000 of city funds with $265,000 in grant funding has been spent in hopes of the city acquiring the property and turning it back into productive use.
City administration tried to obtain the property through the expedited foreclosure process, but during a Champaign County Board of Revisions special meeting Aug. 4, Champaign County Prosecutor Kevin Talebi said because the auditor’s valuation of the property (over $900,000) was as high as it was in relation to the taxes owed, the board could not legally perform an expedited foreclosure in which the property would be immediately transferred to the city.
Instead, if the property doesn’t sell during the sheriff’s sale on Sept. 2, it will go up for bid again in another sheriff’s sale on Sept. 16.
If the property remains unsold after Sept. 16, Brugger said, the city will only accept it if the board of revisions votes to waive the tax liability. Marcia Bailey, economic development director for the Champaign Economic Partnership, informed council once the newest taxes are added to the property, the total owed will be well over $300,000.
“If we can’t get a clear title with absolutely no strings attached from the tax side, we will not participate in taking the property,” Brugger said.
While none of the three members of the board of revisions (president of Champaign County Commission, county auditor and county treasurer) have gone on record as to how he or she would vote if the city were to ask for a hearing regarding the waiving of the taxes on the property, Evans said, he’s skeptical that the city is going to be able to acquire the Q3 JMC property.
“I’m pretty confident with discussions with people from the county that the board of revisions, at least two members, are not in favor of forgiving the taxes,” Evans said. “We are not going to get the property, so why spend additional dollars? We continue to spend money on what I called three months ago a bad deal and a bad deal that got worse.
“If by some chance we receive the property and get a clear title to the property, then we can start spending money on it,” he added. “We are guardians of the taxpayers’ dollars, and I don’t think it’s good policy to spend money on a project that’s going down the tubes.”
Council member Dwight Paul agreed with Evans in regards to how he thinks the board of revisions’ vote will go if the property doesn’t sell at the sheriff’s sales.
“From what I can gather, having talked to one of the commissioners this morning, is their position is they have a duty to their taxpayers as well, and they’re saying they want to get their tax money, and I understand their side,” he said. “I honestly don’t see them giving up the $268,000.”
Despite these concerns, council agreed to continue moving forward with the Q3 JMC Redevelopment Project in hopes the board of revisions votes to forgive the back taxes on the property if no bids are received during the sheriff’s sales. Until then, several city officials encouraged the public to take a stand on the issue if inclined to do so.
“If you are getting tired of it (nuisances created by the Q3 JMC property), then go up to the board of revisions meeting or call up these individuals and let them know how you feel about it,” council member Doug Hoffman said.
Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-652-1331 (ext. 1774) or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.