Commissioner Questions $77,000 Per Acre Land Purchase

9 Families Could Be Displaced If County Purchases Mobile Home Park

Commissioners voted 5-to-2 to obtain an option to buy nearly six acres of land including a mobile home park on Highway 70 Business East adjacent to the new Public Safety Center complex currently under construction. Johnston County Report Photo.

SMITHFIELD – Johnston County Commissioners, in a 5-to-2 vote, have agreed to exercise an option on four tracts of land, including a mobile home park, on US Highway 70 Business East adjacent to the new Johnston County Jail and Public Safety Center under construction.

On Monday, the board approved a contract with Larry Cox, doing business as C & S Properties of Smithfield, for approximately 6 acres of land. The County will pay $5,000 for an option on the property. If the county agrees to buy the property prior to December 31, they will pay $450,000 for the land and mobile home park.

Commissioner Fred Smith said the land purchase was a good deal. An appraisal by the County estimated the property to be worth $545,000. However, Commissioner Ted Godwin questioned why they were buying land when they had no use for at the present time.

“When we purchased the land for the detention center, we all felt good about the situation as it afforded a good location for the center – there was much controversy over a previous proposed site – and the fact that we had many possible options on the remaining land for other county building needs. We all recognized that it would be good if we could purchase the small mobile home park next door on the eastern side of our land. We didn’t really need the land but thought it would be a good buffer for that type of facility. We confidentially inquired of the price and found out we could perhaps purchase it for $450,000. The owner/seller was receiving rental income and felt that was a fair proposal to give up that income stream. When I saw the price, my first thought was, the land is not for sale. Not to an entity that is not interested in operating a small mobile home park,” Commissioner Godwin said during the Oct. 3rd meeting,” Godwin stated.

“I still do some part time work for my previous employer, the bank, in the area of real estate evaluations. I am not a licensed appraiser, but I have had a lot of experience and training in that area, 35-40 years. When we discussed in closed session, it was suggested we get the property appraised, which we did. The appraiser only appraised it as ‘income property’, and that’s not wrong because that is the property’s ‘Highest and Best Use’. The appraisal indicated a high value – confidential – that would justify the proposed purchase price. And I agree with it, if the owner is giving up the future income, he must receive adequate present value. But, from my perspective, the appraisal has no validity for our intended use (as a) buffer,” Commissioner Godwin said.

“It appeared to me that we should have requested a value for land, just land, east of Smithfield. The appraiser cited several recent, and some not so recent, sales from $10,000 per acre and less, to $37,000 an acre for a corner lot on Highway 70. In my own investigation, I found prices, in a wider search around Smithfield, of prices from $5,500 to $49,000 per acre. We recently purchased our detention center land next door to subject, at $20,000 per acre. The purchase price for the subject property is $77,000 per acre.”

The entrance to the mobile home park is just yards away from the new Public Safety Center complex being built on Highway 70 Business West near Yelverton Grove Church Road. Johnston County Report Photo

“Now, I can see that if it’s part of a grander plan and that 5.8 acre site is critical, but we have no defined or proposed use other than ‘it would be good to own it”. I agree, it would be good for the county to own it. But, at what price?”

“In the grand scheme of things, $450,000 is a small part of the operating budget of this county, so, why the big push back on my part? The board members are all members of the same party and we all tout our conservative approach to taking care of the taxpayer and saving the taxpayer money whenever we can. If we truly needed this land, we need to buy it. But we only “want” it and, if we can buy it with public money, then we need to do that. No!”

“We need to live by the principles we are supposed to be upholding and save money wherever we can! It won’t change anyone’s life if we buy this, except the seller and the people living in the park. My problem is, it smacks of what we witness so many times in public leadership when we try to justify an action we’ve convinced ourselves is good and proper. I will admit, we cannot govern by popular opinion and we must make hard, unpopular decisions, often. I guess our division is between seeing this as a hard, necessary action for the eventual good to the county, or a waste of taxpayer’s money. If we don’t move forward on this proposed purchase, in 20 years it may be seen as something we should have done way back in 2021. I must stand by my conservative values. Whatever the outcome, our board will continue to work together, and iron out our differences, for the good of Johnston County,” Godwin stated.

Commissioners disagreed with Godwin saying the land would be an ideal future location for an EMS Logistics building. Commissioner Patrick Harris said the county is currently leasing two buildings for $60,000 a year, and that amount would fund the payment on a $1 million logistics building on the Cox property.

“This makes great business sense for this county,” Commissioner Smith added. “I think this is a good use for our county. I believe it is responsible to take this option.”

Commissioner Larry Wood questioned if the need was so great, why is the property across Highway 70 the county owns empty.

Commissioner Chairman Chad Stewart said one of the county owned parcels is wetlands and there are plans for the other parcel.

Johnston County GIS photo of the 4 tracts of land.

Stewart said, “With a county that’s the fastest growing county in North Carolina, guys we’ve got to get up to speed.” He cited the lack of courtroom space and overcrowding at the Department of Social Services building.

Godwin said the County already owns other land they can place an EMS Logistics warehouse on if needed. It not, the County can buy other land a lot less than $77,000 per acre.

“The previous Chairman Jeff Carver always said let’s look at our return on investment. Everything Commissioner Smith said it true. I don’t disagree with him. But the one thing it doesn’t incorporate to me is a lot of common sense. We’re going to trade $450,000 in taxpayers money for an asset that in two years will be worth $145,000. That’s at $25,000 an acre.”

Commissioner Tony Braswell said he supported the decision to exercise an option on the Cox property. He also supported efforts to look at other county government building needs.

Commissioner Butch Lawter agreed. “I will support it. As we move forward I think we will see clearly there is a use for this property.”

In a 5-to-2 vote, commissioners agreed to the option on the US 70 East land and mobile home park. Commissioners Ted Godwin and Larry Wood voted no.

County manager Rick Hester said there are approximately 9 occupied mobile homes on the site. If the Board eventually buys the land, C&S Properties, the current owner, would work with the residents on a transition plan prior to closing.  

10 COMMENTS

  1. If the owner of the property “knows what he has” then he should keep it. It is not a good use of the funds. It kinda sounds like the commissioners are needing to spend the funds on something and that is that the best they could come up with. Why would anyone buy a an old trailer park for $77k per acre and then not use it as a trailer park? The county has an 495 acre tract that appears to be mostly unused on Hwy 210 with some road frontage near Black Creek Rd . It’s located behind the Ag building and adjoins the 500+ acres at the landfill. The ems logistics building could be put there and the $450,000 could pay for a portion of a new building.

  2. I hope the state auditor is paying attention to this sale. A gross misuse of tax payers funds! Suspect! But we can’t find our schools and pay our TAs custodians, child nutrition workers! Go ahead, throw the money away, its not yours!

  3. The county commissioners’ aim is to keep financial contributors happy. I bet it comes down to them not wanting to see a trailer park when they cut the ribbon on their new building.

  4. As with everything, FOLLOW THE MONEY. When you look at what you elect in to these positions, don’t expect them to look after your interest first. Why do people stay in these elected positions for long periods? It’s not the PUBLIC pay check that they get. It’s the influence and side deals that they get because of their positions.

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