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Florence backs down on seizing springs

Staff writer

What a difference three days makes. The decision to renege on the eminent domain case made at the city council meeting on Thursday was turned on its ear at Monday’s follow-up meeting. Now council hopes to negotiate a contract with the DeForest family.

By the end of Monday’s meeting, Gayle, and councilmen Ken Hoffman and Reilly Reid said they no longer wanted to exercise eminent domain. The council will hear further discussion Friday.

Councilman Matthew Williams was not present Monday.

Florence is paying $5,000 per month for an attorney to pursue the eminent domain case.

One of the measures to help finance the case, if the city wins, is through grants, Gayle said Monday.

This money is only attainable if the city wins, resident Darla Spenser reiterated.

“That’s my future,” Spencer said. “So, do I need to continue to live here or do I need to look for a place to go?”

Counting on the grant money before the city receives it is dangerous, she said.

“I think the council needs to be careful passing a budget that you’re not actually budgeted for what is taking place with this whole, city springs and the DeForest family,” Spencer said.

The city passed a higher retail sales tax in 2018, which could easily take care of the money for the Crystal Springs lease, business owner Sarah Dawson said.

“I’ve been in this business since November,” she said. “I have generated now, probably, over $6,000 in retail sales tax for the city, O.K.? So, my point being, I could have just paid for that lease out of one new business.”

There were contradicting details at both meetings, particularly with Gayle’s story.

The original contract was accepted by the DeForests, Linda DeForest said, but the names had to be corrected.

When she brought the corrected contract to Gayle April 27, she was under the impression both parties were satisfied, Deforest said.

Thursday’s night, Gayle said at both meetings he had received consensus April 26 to take the matter off the table, approving eminent domain.

Once again, Warner quickly said that she had not approved, meaning it was not a consensus but a majority.

What bothered Gayle was that the deal could be accepted or denied every five years, he said.

Gayle told DeForest on the 27th the council wished to proceed with eminent domain, he said Monday.

As read by Dawson from previous notes, Gayle was already operating under the assumption that the council declined the 10-year contract.

“In your brain, you were already under the assumption that the 10-year contract was off the table,” Dawson said.

Gayle confirmed that was his assumption at the time, though earlier in Monday’s meeting he indicated otherwise.

“I said I would leave it with the council to have it approved,” Gayle said.

Gayle promised a meeting expanding on the details of the lease also, but that never happened, Dawson said.

“Mayor Gayle indicated several times, when asked, saying that there had been significant changes in the contract that could not be discussed and he would explain to everyone later,” Dawson said.

No decision could be made Thursday because the survey results had not been filed with the city clerk in time, councilman Trayce Warner said.

“This meeting has no further business then,” Warner said. “Because according to state statute, which I have right here, the filing of the city clerk with the survey must be completed before an ordinance can be made to go forward with eminent domain.”

Warner repeatedly voiced her agreement with the audience members at both meetings, supporting negotiations with the DeForests.

According to Warner, a deal was ready, but the council retracted their offer at the last moment.

“It wasn’t the DeForests that offered it to us,” Warner said. “We gave them a contract that we had approved as a council and they signed it, and agreed to the terms of it, and we told them, ‘no’. And to me, that’s dishonorable.”

Williams shared his support for eminent domain Thursday evening.

“I can tell you that 10 years is a big deal to me,” he said. “I think we need to get this resolved and we need to have water for, basically as long as the town’s going to be here.”

His thought was that it would be best for Florence to possess the springs indefinitely, adding that the board had offered to buy the springs.

Williams’ proposed offer for the springs was $60,000.

The springs are worth more than that and the DeForests are not interested in selling, DeForest said Monday.

“We, as a family, do not want to sell the land because it’s right in the middle of our property,” DeForest said. “Plus, it means a lot to us.”

The DeForest family’s attorney, Brad Stout, was not present Monday but he took the floor Thursday evening.

In addition to commending Warner for calling into question the survey, he addressed the matter of eminent domain.

“It’s not the right to take back property,” Stout said. “It’s the right to buy property. When you start the process, you don’t control the purchase price. The condemning authority controls everything else.”

An independent group who hears comments from both parties beforehand sets the price, he said.

“What you don’t want to do, ever in your life is take financial advice from an attorney and so I won’t give it today,” Stout said. “But my personal opinion is that the value is significantly greater than the numbers I’ve seen tossed around.”

The DeForests are still open to negotiation, but once the case is filed, there will be no more niceties, he said.

The matter will be publicly discussed again at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 20.

Last modified Aug. 8, 2018

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