There was an interesting article in Saturday’s Times-Union about the $10 million the City spent to purchase 500 acres that were adjacent to the Trail Ridge Landfill. The land was purchased from ICI at a cost of $20,000 per acre—$8,000 (or $5,000, depending on which appraisal you use) more than a 2007 appraisal the City obtained on the property. (Of course, we all are very well aware of what has happened to property values since 2007. It would be interesting to see what a 2009 appraisal would value that property at.) While the article discussed the fact that the City appears to have overpaid for the property, it never mentioned the fact that the City paid for the property with money it didn’t have.
That’s right. When we are in the severe budget crisis we are currently in, the City doesn’t have $10 million laying around to draw from. So, how did they pay for it? And, why did they make the purchase?
One of the unmentioned facts about the current cell at Trail Ridge is the flooding issue that the adjacent properties deal with from the pumping of water from the current borrow pit for the landfill. While the Times-Union article mentions the fact that ICI had never threatened to oppose the permitting of a new cell on the Trail Ridge site, it did not mention that ICI was suing the City of Jacksonville for flooding issues related to the current cell, which is operated by Waste Management. And, miraculously, just weeks after the City’s option to purchase was recorded in January 2009, ICI dropped their lawsuit.
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about this entire purchase was how it was actually paid for. The legislation (2008-630) was originally introduced with the money coming straight from the Trail Ridge Closure Fund, which would have presumed that the City Council would go along with the Mayor’s proposal to award the contract to Waste Management. If you recall from the Mayor’s staff presentation at City Council, if and when that contract is approved, then Waste Management would put their money up front with the state’s environmental protection agency, and the state agency would release the City’s money. While the proposed Waste Management contract sits there for months on end and does not go through, the City does not have the closure money available, which would continue to prevent the City from exercising the option on the property for quite some time.
Instead of going along with that initial recommendation, however, Councilman Michael Corrigan introduced an amendment to the original legislation that took the money for the land purchase from the Banking Fund (whatever that is) with repayment from the Closure Fund. (This money has to be repaid when the State releases the money from the Closure fund.) This piece of legislation, and the fact that it was passed, should give us some indication as to how the Council is leaning in regards to the Waste Management contract. There would have been no need for Councilman Corrigan’s legislation if the City Council was in agreement with the Mayor’s proposal to award the landfill contract to Waste Management.