Councilman recommends reversal of city vote to accept land

Friday, November 13, 2009

Lewisburg's City Council on Tuesday unanimously voted to accept a resident's donation of land south of the VFW Post, but after the monthly meeting a councilman said maybe the decision should be reversed.

An "about face" so the Veterans of Foreign Wars could get the land was suggested by Councilman Ron McRady during conversation after the meeting. About that time, City Manager Eddie Fuller was asked if the city had to declare the land as surplus property and then call for bids before it's sold or donated.

McRady's suggestion included his observation that there would be one land transfer instead of two if the VFW was to get the land from the city and that would reduce work and possibly fees.

VFW Post 5109 Commander Hundley Ford Sr. was present and said the veterans group would like to have the land.

Ernest Henegar Jr. of Hull Avenue offered the land to the VFW months ago. Without a reply, he asked if the city wanted the small tract of land. Water and sewer mains crisscross the land and there's a gas line to a nearby pump, as well as other utilities.

It's not seen as having much value and the city manager said that if Lewisburg owned it, then its responsibility might be little more than mowing grass, but the city does a great deal of that anyway.

So the question of donating the land was before the council.

"Very rarely anybody wants to give us anything," Councilman Quinn Stewart said. "Let's take it."

McRady pointed out that Henegar's family doesn't want the land and it could be received with "no strings attached. It's just a gift."

Speaking from the audience, the VFW commander said it was his understanding that the property "was to be donated to a 501(c)(3)" organization as classified by the Internal Revenue Service as a tax-free nonprofit group.

An unanswered tax question that night was whether giving the land to the city would provide Henegar and his brother, Joe, with a tax deduction that would come with a contribution to the VFW.

The veterans were asked "more than a year ago" if the tax-free non-profit organization wanted the land, Ford said.

That led to the suggestion that the Council accept the land and immediately transfer it to the VFW, but City Attorney Bill Haywood cautioned that couldn't be done because that action had not been included on the agenda, or advertised to the general public as something the public panel might consider that night.

"Can't do that tonight," Haywood advised, indicating another step is possible at another meeting.

A special-called meeting is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Nov. 19 to deal with other business. The Council's next regularly scheduled meting is Dec. 15.

Tuesday night, Stewart noted, "It's not ours to give..."

"...until we accept the land," Councilman Odie Whitehead Jr. said.

He then moved to accept the donation. McRady seconded the motion and council members Robin Minor, Hershel Davis and Stewart agreed.

During the public comment period, the VFW commander took the opportunity to speak.

"I'm not telling you what to do with the property," Ford said, "but if it weren't for people like us, you wouldn't be sitting there."

That led to conversation about how the city could make it possible for the Henegar brothers to donate the land to the VFW even though the city voted to accept the brothers' gift this week.

"If we could put it on hold," the city manager said, "we could put it back on the agenda and reconsider. We could tell Ernest (Henegar) 'Thanks, but no thanks.'"