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It’s Just Not Worth $375,000

If you work in Wheeling, I wish you a happy new …

user fee.

With the new year came implementation of the city’s $2 per week — $104 a year — fee paid by anyone who works within municipal limits. It applies to full-time and part-time workers, and the self-employed.

Not another tax! That’s your initial reaction to the user fee, in all likelihood. Your second thought may be a hope that the proceeds are put to good use.

Part of the revenue is to go to infrastructure repairs and improvements. A large chunk of the expected $1.6 million a year from the tax is earmarked for construction of a new $14.5 million public safety building.

Wheeling’s police and fire departments need new facilities. Very few disagree with that. It’s city officials’ plan for the building that has raised hackles.

For many months, city officials have insisted they are considering more than one potential site for the building. But all through that time it has been clear most of them favor a piece of land at 19th and Jacob streets. It is owned by Americo Inc., an enterprise controlled by Frank Calabrese.

In mid-December, council voted 5-2 to approve a 90-day option to buy the property. It doesn’t lock the city into buying the land — but it is a clear signal of intent.

We know tentative plans call for the city — taxpayers — to hand Calabrese a check for $150,000 if the purchase goes through. He also would get around $30,000 for “relocation” expenses.

He could receive an additional $195,000, if the city receives state or federal funding for environmental remediation of the site. That means cleaning up contaminants in the ground and buildings. If outside money can’t be obtained for the work, Calabrese would not get the $195,000.

Still, he stands to pull in $375,000 for his property. He paid a total of $58,862 for it, between 1997 and 2001.

Is it worth that?

No.

An appraiser hired by the city placed a value of $400,000 on the site — but with two stipulations made repeatedly in his report.

One sentence, reiterated multiple times in the appraiser’s report, makes the catch clear: “The appraisal is based on hypothetical conditions. Namely, it assumes that the building improvements have been removed … and the site is vacant, environmentally clean and available for development.”

It is none of the above. A substantial cost would be involved in tearing down old buildings. There are three of them, two of which contain more than 34,000 square feet of area. And, an analysis of the property found “recognized environmental conditions” — in other words, contamination that would have to be remediated.

Why, then, are some city officials so eager to hand Calabrese $375,000 for the property? It just isn’t worth anywhere near that. To my knowledge, there is no line of people waiting to take the property off Calabrese’s hands.

Two council members, Melinda Koslik and Wendy Scatterday, voted against the option to buy. It would take two more to back away from the 19th and Jacob site, or at least to get real about the price.

One wonders about New Year’s resolutions made by city officials — and whether one of them is to ram through the 19th and Jacob purchase, come what may.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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