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City thinks twice about accepting county land offer

Jun 10, 2012 - By Emily Etheredge, Staff Writer

The Riverton City Council has rejected an offer of free land next to Jaycee Park and will not accept the proposal unless it includes an additional two acres.

Earlier this year the Fremont County Commission acquired roughly 107 acres of land from Wayne Major Sr. for $150,000. The property extends north of Riverton Memorial Hospital and Jaycee Park to Cooper Road.

The commission offered to give the city 6.2 acres of the property that would be adjacent to Jaycee Park as part of a request by Major concerning the property deal.

Liability questions

On Tuesday, city administrator Steven Weaver advised council members to evaluate the value of the offer. The comment came after Weaver consulted with municipal attorney Rick Sollars, who said the land consists of a drainage ditch and would require maintenance of the drainage.

Sollars suggested the city would be taking on a liability in the event of a large storm, when flood damage would be a concern.

"In the history of me working, I have seen many gifts given to the city that turn out to be maintenance nightmares," Weaver said.

"I think the council really needs to think about the gift that is being given."

Larger request

Mayor Ron Warpness said the city was excited about the prospects the piece of land would provide for the community is the additional two acres could be included.

He said the extra land would straighten out the boundary line on the north side and help make the land a usable part of Jaycee Park.

Warpness said it also could be a nice addition for future businesses if the county decides to pursue development of a justice center or fairgrounds nearby.

"I walked around that property, and if we could get those additional two acres, then it would be something that could be useful," Warpness said. "The way it is now you can't walk on it. I'm not sure what the county's motivation was for giving it to us, but there is simply not much there."

Warpness said the 6.2 acres being offered could cost the municipality hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring up to city code, beginning with removing 19 large, dead trees for $20,000.

Councilman Richard Gard asked if there was an advantage to the city owning the property as opposed to the county possessing it.

Weaver said he didn't know why the county expressed giving it to the city.

"I obviously can't speak for the county, but with this being an extension of Jaycee Park I am assuming they thought it would be a good idea for the city to own," Weaver said.

Councilwoman Mary Ellen Christensen said she had spoken to some farmers familiar with the land and wondered if the city would be responsible for the liability if any floods occurred on that piece of property in the future.

Weaver said the city would be liable and might incur any expenses involved with the flooding.

Two motions

Gard made a motion to accept the land grant from Fremont County as is, without the additional two acres requested from Warpness. Council members unanimously voted against accepting the motion.

Gard made a second motion to accept the property with the condition of receiving the additional two acres of ground requested by Warpness.

All council members voted in favor of that motion.

In a telephone interview Thursday, Fremont County Commissioner Travis Becker called the council's decision "an interesting curve ball at that."

"I know I'll be talking to the rest of the commission about this city council decision and see if the rest of the commission is interested," Becker said.

"I just find it interesting the city was given the opportunity for something and instead of that, they want more. It surprised me -- not totally, but it did surprise me."

Becker said the issue will come up at a future commission meeting and that nothing was off the table.

"Quite honestly, the ground that we originally wanted to give to them, it's a ditch," Becker said. "There is not a lot of useful things that could go with that except maybe a walking path.

"That was the original intent of Mr. Major. He wanted a portion of property offered to the city. And if the city refuses, that is just fine too."