BLAST FROM THE PAST IN CUMBERLAND COUNTY!
Jury award sends cold chills down the spines of Cumberland County taxpayers!
Failure by local officials to plan (or think) ahead costs taxpayers pretty penny (more like $850,000 and counting)!!!
The children pay for bad decisions of County officials… the parents too!
Just in over the wire services, a blast from the past in Cumberland County!
It seems that a jury just decided this week to award a plaintiff in a law suit against Cumberland County a judgment of $850,000. Read all about it in this morning's paper.
This matter was first reviewed in the Iconoclast back in March of 2006, when a story broke in Cumberland County about the local government’s questionable exercise of eminent domain to seize back a former county owned property from private party who had purchased the old Luther P. Jackson Elementary School and 20 acres of land on U.S. Route 60 in Cumberland County.
You can link to the earlier Iconoclast post on this story by clicking here.
At that time, the Iconoclast and a couple hundred million other Americans were absolutely outraged at the most recent legal trends allowing for more liberal exercise of the powers of eminent domain.
Eminent domain is of course a legal power of government and has historically been applied judiciously in cases where the public interests overwhelmingly justified the taking of private property for the greater public good. Eminent domain presumes that the owners, so relieved of their property through the process will be fairly compensated but that they have no option to keep the property.
In our view, eminent domain should not be used to cover up or correct dumb mistakes by public officials.
Be that as it may, and as we understand it, about four years ago County officials decided that the school building and 20 acres weren’t needed any more. So they sold the property to a Farmville area realtor, one Mary Meeks and her husband for $110,000. Twenty acres and buildings for $110,000 sounds like a pretty good deal for the Meeks.
Unfortunately, County officials woke up one day only three years later to realize that they had made a mistake.
The County school system really did urgently need the school buildings its classroom space and the surrounding grounds to meet immediate school enrollment requirements.
Who could have possibly guessed that the Cumberland County school enrollment might actually grow in just three years?! Are we to expect that Cumberland County officials have some kind of super powers to see the future? Or to think about the future? That kind of craziness expectation of foresight by public officials is almost akin to witchcraft!
So what do you think these brilliant Cumberland County officials decide to do to correct the mistake? They seize back the building that they had just recently sold for $110,000 using the powers of eminent domain.
This is where the problems began.
It seems that there was a little difference in opinion concerning value of the property. Cumberland County officials have taken the position that $200,000 should do nicely for the Meeks’ time, trouble and investments. On the other hand the Meeks asserted that the property was worth more… a lot more.
So, in recent developments this week, a Cumberland County jury awarded the Meeks $850,000 in settlement of the case. This is less than the $2 million the Meeks one time asked but is over four times more than what the County was willing to pay and nearly eight times more than the Meeks paid for it.
This amount, $850,000, is a pretty serious blow to little Cumberland County which is generally known to be an economically disadvantaged community with a whole host of financial challenges and few resources available to address them.
With a reported population of only 9,017 living souls in the last census this jury award may wind up costing the taxpayers dearly… like about $94 for every man, woman and child living in the County.
Another way to look at it is that this mistake will cost every single family in Cumberland County $342!
And keep in mind... this is in a county that is known to be economically strapped and has recently resorted to the recruitment of a commercial "dump" as a center piece of their economic development strategy!
Some Cumberland citizens may have reason to be concerned. But the big loosers appear to be the school aged kids. One wonders what better investments in the Cumberland County Schools could have been made with that $850,000!
Presently, there are obvious questions concerning who was responsible for this disastrously costly and embarrassing lack of planning or even the most rudimentary foresight.
Who was in charge? What were they thinking?
Of course, county officials still have still have the option of appealing the jury’s award.
However, before Cumberland County officials do that they should be mindful than another court might just decide to slap them with a big punitive fine for contempt of good judgment and reckless disregard of the taxpayers interests!
NOTE: Also see "Eminent Domain Virginia Style"