BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County moved three properties closer this week to rounding up all the right of way needed to improve and widen Elgin Boulevard.
It was not easy, or cheap.
Tuesday, the commission, with some reluctance, approved the purchase of one small house for $75,325 and two vacant lots at $45,000 each.
With those buys completed, just five homes and two vacant lots remain to finish property purchases for the planned improvements.
Commissioner Jim Adkins expressed his continuing displeasure with having to buy properties well above market value. Paying so much for the parcels "is giving me spending nightmares,'' he said Tuesday.
Public Works Director Charles Mixson said the next step on the parcels the county needs could mean condemnations. "That's where the real nightmares are,'' Mixson said.
Owners of six of the remaining seven properties are represented by attorneys and, according to assistant county attorney Kent Weissinger, "some very large demands have been made in some of these cases.''
Take the case of Ismael Molina who bought his home on Woodbridge Lane and Elgin for $172,000 in May 2006, when the market was in better shape than it is today. The property's market value today is just $122,274, according to records of the county Property Appraiser's office.
Molina is seeking $266,250 for the property including appraiser fees, attorney's fees and other costs.
Molina said Wednesday that the county last offered $210,000 which he doesn't see as fair since the county settled with another Elgin homeowner recently for $283,300.
But Weissinger said that the county's offers are based on the specifics of each property. The numbers must be legally defensible as well as defensible to the County Commission as it makes decisions.
The Molina property and another on the list also demonstrate why the price climbs for owners who use professional help to settle their cases with Hernando County.
The property bought by the commission this week from Patricia L. Conrad was appraised at $75,000. Conrad did not go through an attorney and hired an outside appraiser on her own. The county agreed to pay $75,325 for the property, one of the smallest houses along Elgin, based on the appraisal amount and the appraiser fee, which was $325.
In the case of the homes yet to be purchased, appraiser fees range from $2,500 to more than $5,000.
County officials have warned that if they have to begin the formal process of taking property, the costs rise still higher. Government foots much of the bill for eminent domain cases under Florida law.
The county settled on taking 33 properties on the north side of Elgin for the project in 2007. With the properties approved for purchase on Tuesday, it has cost more than $4.5-million to buy parcels so far.
Additional dollars are set aside from impact fees and a special $2-million allocation from the state to complete the project. Mixson said the hope is to begin construction in 2010.
Spring Hill resident Bill Luecke expressed frustration with the county's purchases, pointing out that county officials knew a decade ago that Elgin Boulevard needed improvements. If they had taken action then, he said, the costs would have been far less.
"It just irritates . . . me that this happened,'' he told them. "That's my money going down the drain to help somebody else get rich, lawyers included.''
Commission chairman Dave Russell acknowledged the frustration but said that the work needed to be done and the commission was willing to take the criticism.
"Frankly, the easy thing would have been to let this project slide,'' he said. "Years ago . . . no one wanted to suffer the political thorns that this board has suffered to do the right thing.''
The project, Russell said, "had to be done at some time. It's just that simple. There's no good time to do this.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.