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Published: Wednesday, 8/11/2004

Wood County offers old Interurban land

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

BOWLING GREEN - Townships, villages, and other public entities have until Sept. 15 to make an offer on county-owned land once used for the old Interurban electric railroad line.

After that, the assorted parcels that extend through the western half of the county from Haskins to Custar would be offered for sale to the public, Wood County commissioners decided yesterday. The base bid will be the amount of back taxes owed on the parcel.

Assistant Prosecutor Linda Holmes told county officials that asking buyers to pay the back taxes that have accrued from as far back as 1975 is not unreasonable. In most cases, the property is valued at more than what the back taxes total, she said.

"They're getting a fair deal," Ms. Holmes said.

Commissioners began looking at ways to sell the 36 scattered parcels after County Treasurer Jill Engle came to them saying she wanted to get the land back on the tax rolls.

The county has owned the property since the owner of the Interurban rail line abandoned it decades ago, but commissioners stopped paying taxes on it in the 1970s and '80s. Ms. Engle said overdue taxes on the more than 58 acres have mounted to $78,096.

Weston-area property owner Don Schooner told commissioners he's not so sure adjacent property owners would want to pick up that tab especially if they've been farming or in other ways using the abandoned rail line for years.

He suggested commissioners forgive the back taxes, allow adjacent property owners to bid on the land, and, in that way, get the land back on the tax rolls.

While commissioners agreed that is their goal, Ms. Holmes said the taxes could not simply be forgiven. The county would have to pay the back tax bill.

"I don't want to pay it," Commissioner Tim Brown said. "With the tight budget we have, I'm not interested in paying $70,000, $80,000 out of our general fund."

Last month, commissioners sent letters about the land offering to Wood County townships, villages, and agencies like the Northwestern Water and Sewer District. So far, though, only the Wood County Park District and the village of Weston have expressed an interest.

Weston Mayor Howard Lashuay and Council President Mark Sheffer attended yesterday's meeting, saying they would present the purchase option to council's finance committee tonight and to council on Monday.

There are five parcels within the village that carry a tax debt between $3,500 and $4,000, Mr. Sheffer said. He's not sure how the village could use the land, but said it needs to investigate the possibilities.

Park District Director Neil Munger said his board is interested in two small parcels south of Weston that total less than two acres and would cost about $2,400. The land is home to native plant species that the park district is trying to propagate at its nature preserves.

"It's a prairie area. We would use it for seed stock," Mr. Munger said. "Right now, we have permission from some property owners to go on their land and collect seed, but a lot of that property is being sold off and developed."

Commissioners initially thought they could sell the land through the county's Internet auction site, but Ms. Holmes said only personal property can be sold in that fashion.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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