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Some Unicoi officials upset over price of bus garage site

JIM WOZNIAK • Mar 11, 2007 at 11:15 AM

ERWIN - The Unicoi County school system continues to move forward with its facilities plan by securing funds for a new bus garage, and officials hope to have the new facility up and running by the start of the next school year.

County Commissioner Sue Jean Moore laments the $179,000 price school leaders paid to buy the old Southside Fuels property on Carolina Avenue. Noting that price is nearly four times as much as the appraisal by the county property assessor's office, she does not think Unicoi County got a good deal.

School officials contend no one's property values match what the county assessor's office has on its books. They said no one would want it that way, either. Plus, they say the school system paid exactly what an appraiser for owner Randy Guinn said it was worth.

The bus garage is the second project the school system has tackled in its $32 million facilities plan. The first was replacement of the roof at the vocational school, which has been completed. The next project for which the system is seeking funds is a new school for grades 6-8. At an estimated $16 million, that building is the most expensive project in the whole plan.

Schools Director Denise Brown told the Board of Education last week that the school system had finalized the deal to buy the 2.8 acres for the new bus garage. It will replace an inadequate facility near the intersection of the Jackson-Love Highway and Ohio Avenue, which has about four times less the amount of land. Officials said major work would have to be undertaken to build the facility higher if it were reconstructed at the same spot.

The property assessor's office last appraisal of the newly acquired property was $46,200, and the vast difference between that and the amount the appraiser in this deal determined to be an appropriate price and the school system paid did not please Moore. She spoke her mind at the last County Commission meeting about the situation.

"To me, paying that much for the bus garage is not being a steward of the taxpayers' money," she said.

Brown said she did not think the school system paid too much. "I don't think it's accurate, and I don't feel like the board felt like it was accurate or they wouldn't have voted for it," Brown said. "It wasn't something we jumped into. We did research. (Randy Guinn) did have an appraisal done," said.

Brown said she would never sell her house at the price for which the county has it appraised for tax purposes and does not think Moore would, either. "You can't look at what something's appraised at (by the county) and say, ‘This is fair market value,'" she said.

The new building will likely be a pre-fabricated structure with two drive-through bays, one of which will have a lift.

School board member Steve Scott wondered what the school system would do with the existing garage. Brown said that would be a board decision but said she did not know what reasonable use the school system would have.

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