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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

West Bend School Board - Jackson property condemnation and your tax $$$

I sat in on the School Board work session last night. Alan Marcuvitz, an attorney with Michael Best and Friedrich, explained the eminent domain property condemnation law and process to the board last night. To his credit, he was a very knowledgeable man, spent much time on explaining law thoroughly, and gave excellent examples.

Supt. Pat Herdrich gave a prediscussion disclaimer speech, stating that she did not want the public to be "misinformed" and think they were making plans behind the taxpayers backs. She further said that these were "simply informational sessions" to prepare the Board for future negotiations.

The discussion progressed with Q&A between the Board members and Atty. Marcuvitz, assuming the referendum goes through as proposed. Unfortunately, there was never any mention made of a PLAN B. No thoughts, ideas, discussion on Jackson school issues if the referendum FAILS.

The basic gist of the procedure is this:

1. The eminent domain process would take place under statute 32.06. The full explanation can be read here and states that two requirements must be met: a) Public purpose and b) Just compensation (private property cannot be taken unless just compensation is made.)
2. This statute requires the district to make an initial offer to the land owner (who is a developer in this case, though the property location was never disclosed) by obtaining an appraisal (that the District pays for) from a qualified source.
3. The property owner then obtains an appraisal of their own choosing (which the District also pays for).
4. The property owner and the District then enter into negotiations using the figures of the appraisals to come to an agreement on Fair Market Value.
5. Should this procedure fail, they go to formal eminent domain proceedings by petitioning the court for condemnation.
6. The petition falls on the County Condemnaation Committee, who makes a decision on the price.
7. If no reconciliation is achieved, it goes to a jury trial, during which time the District can move forward or reject the project.

John Duwell questioned the right of the property owner to reject the eminent domain/condemnation process. The Kelo vs. New London case was brought up, citing that the property own would most likely be unsuccessful in putting a stop to it.

The entire project can take from 6 to 8 months, possibly up to 1 year, to acquire the property. Mediation is generally required by a judge, who usually appoints a mediator of his choice.

Legal fees could run as much as $10,000 to the District.

Atty. Marcuvitz maintained that appraisals should be sought from someone who is not an employee of the district and should never be the negotiator.

He further cautioned that if the District would negotiate privately (not using eminent domain process) with the land owner, the land owner has six months to file a claim for additional compensation. Furthermore, lis pendens could also be pursued.

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