state's land buys
By DAVID BALLINGRUD No clear title. Auditors said
St. Petersburg Time* Staff Writer failure to follow proper procedure in
"I came here (to DNR) after a recent purchase resulted in DNR's
Florida's program to buy environ- Shields left," said Kennard Howell, not obtaining title to all the land the
mentally sensitive land scandal- "and we've been trying to avoid even agency thought it bought. This "may
ized and criticized in recent years a hint of that kind of activity. We've ultimately require substantial expen-
has taken a rap from state auditors. made a lot of changes, a lot of im- diture of public funds to acquire un-
In a report obtained Wednesday provements. ... Standards for ap- disputed title to the remaining land,"
by the St. Petersburg Times, audi- praisals are much tougher than they they wrote.
tors criticized the Department of were before. We need make no apolo- The auditors also said this prob-
Natural Resources (DNR) for: gies." lem had been pointed out in previous
V Not obtaining adequate ap- The auditors criticized: audits, but "deficiencies continue to
praisals of land value before agreeing occur."
on a purchase price. Inadequate appraisals. DNR Unverified information. On
Permitting "a security rules require that a third appraisal be another occasion, DNR accepted in-
breach" in which confidential infor- obtained when there is a significant formation from landowners concern-
mation in the state's possession could difference between the first two. ing the value of an unbuilt bridge.
hav6 been leaked to competing ap- In the purchase of lands in the "As a result, the appraisers probably
praisers. eastern Everglades, for example, they overvalued the property and caused
V Not verifying information noted that two appraisals of the val- the increased expenditure of public
supplied by property owners before ue of a 3,200-acre tract of land dif- funds."
sales, and therefore maybe paying feared by more than $5-million "I'll take my lumps on that one.
too much for the land. from $8-million to $2.9-million. With We just missed that one," Howell
V Not obtaining clear title to such a large difference, a third ap- said.
land being purchased, therefore risk- praisal might better reveal the real Land management. The
ing more of the taxpayers' money value. But the state did not order a state's records of what land it owns
later third valuation. are so poor that it has limited ability
later. Not knowing enough about "The department's decision not to insure that they are being used for
SNot knowing enough about to obtain third appraisals may have the public's benefit, the auditors
some of the land the state now owns resulted in a considerably higher sathe pubic's benefitted.
in order to manage it properly. purchase price ." the auditors Further, they wrote, DNR has not
DNR HAS 20 days to respond to wrote. effectively managed state lands
the auditors' findings. After the "That sounds worse than it is," leased to private individuals. A sam-
agency responds, the auditors might Howell said. The state's two apprais- piling of 60 of the 67 leases t private
soften their criticism or strengthen it. ers were calculating a value for a huge concerns showed that 25 percent
Gov. Bob Graham has been a tract of land 50,000 acres. And were in arrears on payments wed
strong supporter of purchasing envi- they arrived at very similar total val- the state.
ronmentally sensitive lands, most re- ues, he said. The 3,200-acre tract was The auditors also found that
cently in his popular program to a small part of the larger one. To when the state joins forces with local
"Save Our Everglades." focus on a disagreement over a small governments to buy land, the price
"We've spent a billion in the last part of the larger total "puts us in a might go too high. As an example,
S20 years (buying environmentally very bad light that doesn't exist," he they cited the 1983 purchase of the
sensitive lands), and we'll spend an- said. Gateway tract in Pinellas County.
other billion in the next 20 years," A security breach. Private ap- The maximum legal price the
Graham boasted last December. praisers hoping to be assigned work state could have offered for the land
"But these are some of the best in- by the state must submit bids on was $1,476,637 the average of the
vestments we could have made." each appraisal. The appraiser's fee two closest appraisals. But Pinellas
The state's auditor general has and the length of time needed to County decided to chip in the same
criticized DNR frequently in recent finish the task are two primary fac- amount, in effect doubling what the
years for individual purchases of tors the state considers when making appraisers thought the land was
land. But the most damaging blow to a selection. r worth.
the program came in 1980, when Har- The auditors found that the ap- The county's justification for this,
mon Shields, a former head of the praisers' bids were being opened in the auditors noted, was that the sell-
agency, was convicted of extorting the DNR mailroom and that infor- er relinquished claim to some disput-
money from people seeking to sell mation could have been leaked to ed land and that litigation was
aCurrent DNR chief Elton Gissen- take "immediate action to mend this "What local government does is
danner was not available for com- security breach," they wrote. up to them," Howell said.
ment Wednesday, but the man re- "We corrected that on amr own Staff Writer Laurie Hollman con-
sponsible for agency appraisals came months ago," Howell responded, tribute to this report.
to its defense.