By Brandon Martin
A Collinsville resident is asking for better stewardship of taxpayer dollars following an alleged bad transaction occurring on the former Collinsville Primary property, which has now become the Center for Community Learning.
Doug Stegall addressed the Henry County Board of Supervisors on Dec. 15, specifically about the purchase and demolition of three homes near the site and the sale of three mobile school units once used by the former elementary school.
He said the housing lots, located adjacent to the school on Oakland Drive, were supposed to be used “to make money for the taxpayers. They said they were being used for storage, but we didn’t see anything being stored in them.”
Stegall said he and others were told “that we would be arrested if we went back on the property. Then they came in and destroyed the houses and tore them down.”
Schools Superintendent Sandy Strayer said the houses were purchased between 2005 and 2006.
Regarding the exact reasoning for the sale and demolition of the houses, “I would not want to speculate because the people on the board now and in the central office are not the same people. At the time, they were going to build a new school on that site,” Strayer said
The houses “were purchased and we never did anything with them,” said Monica Hatchett, director of communications. “When Dr. ( J. David) Martin was interim superintendent, they were vacant, empty and the middle of Collinsville.”
After issuing a Freedom of Information Act request, Stegall said the three houses were purchased by the county for $238,000, adding that it took approximately $10,475 to demolish the houses.
“I don’t think the houses would have been in the way of what is going on there now,” he said, referring to an apartment complex that will soon be developed at the former John Redd Elementary School.
“We are told that they were sold at quite a bit less” than market value, Hatchett said.
Stegall said three mobile school units near Collinsville Primary went on the auction block on Nov. 27, 2019.
“I had never been to an auction before, so I thought I’d go to it,” he said. “I didn’t like what I had seen right from the start. I told the county that I didn’t like them having an auction on a Wednesday morning at 9 (a.m.) because everybody is working. I didn’t think there would be a lot of people there. They could have put them on Facebook or had them appraised or anything.”
“A lot of schools have mobile units on their property because there is not enough room in the main building,” Hatchett said. “Recently, we closed Collinsville Primary because that school is no longer in use and it became the Center for Community Learning. They did not have a need for the mobile units on our property anymore because they were able to house everything in the main building.”
David Scott, assistant superintendent of Operations and Administrative Services, said that when the schools have a surplus of an item, it is typical to auction the item.
“The public received notice by an auctioneer that was contracted to work for us,” Hatchett said. “Anybody in the public that wanted to come bid on those mobile units could do so. There weren’t lots of bidders, but the mobile units were bid on and sold.”
One of the units received a single bid of $100 and then was sold, according to Stegall.
“I think the auction should have been called right there,” he said. “We weren’t getting any bids on it and the taxpayers are going to lose money.”
“I know there are some concerns about the fact that they were sold at a very low price; however, sometimes that happens when you are auctioning a property,” Hatchett said. “The other expenses related to that particular sale, for example paying an auctioneer, was not something that we had to do. The auctioneer receives a fee based on the price paid for the item. We didn’t have to pay anyone, as far as tax dollars go, to remove the fencing or anything like that because our maintenance staff did that for us. There were no outside costs.”
Stegall also took issue with the length of time that the mobile units remained on the property following the sale.
“Then, I didn’t hear anybody say any rules to it, like ‘you are responsible for what you buy,’ and ‘it’s got to be off of county property within 30 or 60 days, as appropriate,’” he said.
One of the mobile centers remained on the property for almost a year, Stegall said, and added he reached out to multiple county officials asking them “to make (the property owner) move this property and get their property off of county property. I don’t think you can store anything on county property.”
“We do not have a contract that states when they have to be relocated,” Hatchett said. “One of the purchasers had some extenuating circumstances and was not able to relocate their mobile unit in an expeditious manner.”
Stegall said he had discussions with the county and alleged he was told a buyer was “having problems moving it. Or were they having a problem selling it?”
Given his suspicion, Stegall said he kept an eye out online for the units should the county list the property. He said he eventually found the units available for $3,000.
“They used to tell me that the trailers weren’t worth anything, but I proved them wrong on that,” Stegall said, adding that a marina in North Carolina eventually bought the center. “I just think the taxpayers lost money on that. The county didn’t handle it right.”