Wise County will take possession of the fairgrounds Dec. 1.
After weeks of negotiating with the Wise County Sheriff’s Posse, which had leased the property for almost 60 years, control of the property will revert to the county on that date.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Danny White made the motion in Tuesday’s commissioners meeting based on the fact that the lease expired in August. It passed unanimously.
“I’m ready for a deadline,” White said. “Dec. 1 they need to turn over the schedule books and keys, and the county is to take possession of it … and if there is any other discussion on buildings, we’ll try to negotiate with them in a fair way for the youth of the county.”
The Sheriff’s Posse has leased the 15-acre property from the county for $1 per year since 1955. In September, the late County Judge Bill McElhaney told commissioners the long-term lease would not be renewed. He said the county could no longer offer multi-year renewals, and commissioners appointed a Wise County Fairgrounds Committee to oversee the transition.
The committee included Commissioner White, Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns, Sheriff David Walker and Public Works Administrator Tom Goode.
According to the lease, the county owns the land, but the “improvements” – buildings, barns and arenas – belong to the Posse, and this has been a point of contention.
County Attorney James Stainton told commissioners Tuesday that in the course of negotiations, he had received an email from the Posse’s attorney, Frank Newman, suggesting that the county purchase the buildings and other facilities on the fairgrounds.
“Anytime you put improvements on leased property, the improvements go with the property,” Stainton said, “but in this case the lease explicitly made the improvements removeable fixtures and not permanent fixtures.
“The last suggestion (Newman) made to me was that they would entertain the idea of the county purchasing those improvements.”
Newman also submitted to Stainton an appraisal by Gage and Associates of Denton, which valued the buildings and other facilities at $1.7 million.
“This isn’t an offer,” said Stainton. “This is just what was provided to me as part of the discussion.”
Sheriff Walker suggested the county get its own appraisal.
“It was before my time, but some citizens donated the material to build a lot of that stuff,” he said. “If people donated that stuff, it didn’t come out of the (Posse’s) pocket to build it. Some people donated it to go to the youth of the county.”
Stainton agreed, saying labor is also a consideration, as well as the age and condition of the buildings.
“The main consideration is that most of that stuff was donated for public use,” said Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns.
Commissioner White had a message for Newman.
“You can take this back to their lawyer,” he said. “This proves to me that this is not about youth and the good of the county; it’s about money. We’re wanting to take this over and provide a good facility and that’s all.”
The commissioners and Stainton discussed the need to insure the buildings, upcoming events and access to the facility, coming to no certain conclusions at that time.
White questioned how any of these changes could be made if the county didn’t possess the property.
“How are we going to have a transition period on something that’s not ours?” he asked. “They’re not willing to give us access to those buildings. They haven’t turned anything over to us. If we ask them for the keys, are we going to get the keys?”
Stainton said the issue of the keys and schedule book had been discussed, and he offered to ask again and speed up the process.
It was at this point that White made his motion.
Even though the lease expired in August, the Posse has continued to profit from the facilities, collecting rental fees while the county began maintenance work.
Last month Goode said his department had done some mowing, trimming and painting. They also had air conditioners serviced at the Women’s Building and installed an additional unit in that building, which cost $13,377.
Starting Dec. 1, revenue from the facility will go to the county. Commissioners also agreed to take over utilities at that point.
The current event calendar will be honored, and all annual events will remain on the schedule as normal.