Cheney Free Press -

Other peoples' money is so easy to waste

In our opinion


Just what is it about how our government leaders approach the way they spend other people’s money?

Or as in the case of the Spokane County Commissioners, how they find ways to apparently waste large amounts of our hard earned dollars?

Waste as in what they have done in selling 400 acres of West Plains’ sagebrush, cheat grass and basalt at McFarlane and Craig Road purchased in 2008 for $3.2 million to Spokane international Airport for $1.75 million.

That’s a 45 percent hit over the same period of time, on average, a pair of properties owned by a Free Press staffer fell in value by between 7-8 percent.

Spokane Airports Chief Executive Director Larry Krauter insisted in an email response this past Monday to questions from the editorial board that, “We did have an independent appraisal performed to serve as the basis of our offer,” and “No, the price did not differ from the appraisal.”

So at least someone seems very happy with the deal that will add more land to airport holdings.

“If you look at the land area that has been assembled by the Airport Board over many years, there has been a strategy to form a land bridge with Fairchild Air Force Base,” Krauter wrote.

It’s just the rest of us who seem to have gotten the short end of the deal.

The county’s purchase of the land in 2008 was primarily designed to accommodate the realignment of the Geiger Spur railroad line off of Fairchild Air Force Base, and did just that.

But even then, price was an issue. A 150-acre chunk of what the county bought – valued at $65,000 in 2001 – ballooned in value to $600,000 when John Condon, brother of Spokane Mayor David Condon Jr., sold it.

The remaining 250 acres, purchased from Pete Carstens, made up the balance of the deal authorized in a unanimous vote by the commissioners at the time, Bonnie Mager, Mark Richard and current member Todd Mielke.

Along with providing land for the reroute of the railroad, those who backed the original land purchase – Forward Fairchild and Greater Spokane Incorporated – did so rightfully because it took land out of circulation that could represent possible encroachment on Fairchild and be a threat when base closure talks come around.

What’s interesting is to compare what the county got in another controversial purchase about the same time, that of a significant chunk of the former Spokane Raceway Park in April 2008. For $4.3 million the county bought 314 acres that included about $3 million worth of a racing complex. The remaining 256 acres, including a working gravel pit, went to four bidders at a price of $3.9 million.

Sure the raceway continues to be an albatross for the county with missteps in management and marketing, but chances are the property has not lost much value – let alone 45 percent.

The recent sale was approved by a largely new group of commissioners – Al French and Shelly O’Quinn – along with holdover Mielke. But they seem to still have trouble when it comes to real estate numbers.

If there’s a consolation, however, the Spokane County Commissioners are minor leaguers in piddling away our money when compared to those in Alaska who are getting less than a penny on the dollar in peddling an $80 million ferry for about $750,000.

Other people’s money is sure easier to spend isn’t it?


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