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County needs to be careful in leasing out property for free

The lease of eight acres owned by Washington County to an area church needs careful scrutiny by the Washington County Commission.
The property in question is the Greenfield County Farm site, used in past years to house indigent residents.
An initial look at the proposal causes several concerns. Four issues immediately come to mind about the present proposal.
The first is the 40-year term of the lease.
The county will have passed the half-century mark by the time the lease expires. The economy of the United States will be different.
Certainly, the county will have encountered the need to utilize the property for other purposes within the next four decades.
A 10-year lease seems more appropriate for the agreement with Mt. Zion Baptist Church.
The present Commission should not tie-up the use of county property to an outside entity on a “for free” basis for 40 years.
The second and most obvious issue is that the lease is without cost to the church.
This puts the county in the position where it is providing “free” real estate usage to a Baptist denomination but not to other churches.
According to the current proposal before the county commission, Mt. Zion would improve the eight acres of the farm in exchange for the lease. The improvements would include a public park and playground. There would also be a baseball field built on the site.
The third concern is the possible damage to neighborhood property values. Residents of a nearby neighborhood attended the June meeting of the County Commission to express concern about the financial impact on their homes should the terms of the proposed lease be carried out.
Many of the neighbors were concerned about the church’s plans to clear trees and construct a baseball field with an adjoining parking lot. Some said the proposed facilities would decrease the value of their property.
The county farm property is adjacent to the Mockingbird Place subdivision.
The fourth concern is how many other non-profit institutions will insist they are also entitled to lease free land from the county.
It is not hard to envision that a number of non-profit organizations would have plans for the free use of multiple acres of land in Washington County.
For that reason, Washington County would be well advised to submit all such proposals to the “county owned property committee.” Such a procedure is being followed in the case of the Mt. Zion Church lease and we think that it is a wise decision.
County Attorney John Rambo has said the county will “rework the lease to accommodate both the church and the neighbors the best we can.”
Hopefully, the County Commission will also use the situation to establish future policies on how best to utilize county owned property not presently needed for governmental purposes.
The revised proposal should give Washington County the option to terminate the lease at any time should the need arise. The lease in fairness should give the church time to remove their physical improvements to the land.
The County should carefully consider and debate the provisions of the proposed lease with Mt. Zion Baptist Church in reference to the Greenfield County Farm site.
It would be unfortunate if a “free” lease of this nature would halt the future use of an important piece of county owned property.