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Deal a Bad One For Taxpayers

A proposed deal to acquire land on which Wheeling officials want to construct a new public safety building is, as city Councilman Dave Palmer told our reporter, better than the original $534,000 offer — but not much.

For months, the campaign to use proceeds from a new tax to construct the $14.5 million facility has been controversial. Earlier this year, municipal officials were on board with a plan to pay about $534,000 for property at 19th and Jacob streets, owned by Frank Calabrese. A vacant, dilapidated warehouse sits on the land now.

Had it gone through, that scheme would have been an absurd waste of taxpayers’ money. Last year, the Ohio County Assessor’s Office assessed the property’s value at just $43,300.

Public outcry forced city officials to go back to the drawing board. They pledged to look for other sites while at the same time negotiating with Calabrese. A story on page one of today’s newspaper outlines the outcome.

Now, city officials plan to pay Calabrese $150,000 outright for the property. Another $195,000 would be placed in an escrow account, to sit there while the city seeks a federal loan or grant to conduct environmental remediation of the ground on which the old warehouse stands.

If federal money can be obtained, Calabrese would get the $195,000, bringing his haul to nearly $350,000. Given the need to clean up the ground, that still is an outrageous price tag.

No one can say how much the federal government would provide — if anything. Wheeling taxpayers could be stuck with a very expensive cleanup, quite possibly running into seven figures.

Regardless of how the proposal is viewed, its approval would be a good deal for Calabrese — and a bad one for Wheeling taxpayers.

Council should reject the proposal.

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