The board of supervisors gave 32 acres of land to Gila Community College (GCC), but left controversial questions unanswered at its Nov. 15 meeting.
“As soon as the supervisors voted to proceed with the quit claim deed, the community college had full ownership of the land,” said Don McDaniel, county manager who is the point man for the county in negotiations over the GCC land with the Rim Country Education Alliance (SLE).
Complicating the simple transfer of land, Tom Loeffler, GCC board member and Mike Vogel, chairman of the SLE, had questions regarding the remaining 22 acres of land that sits east of the current GCC campus.
Although Loeffler made it clear the GCC board supports a four-year college coming to Payson, the board has reservations about the land sale. Foremost, the board understood only 15 acres of land would be sold to the SLE — not 22.
“We need the remaining land for expansion,” said Loeffler.
Vogel said that the SLE needs a full 10 acres of buildable land. He indicated seven acres of land at the far east of the property that ends at Tyler Parkway is too steep to build anything on, rendering that sliver of land worthless. Another piece of property flowing down from Graham Ranch Road could be a potential right of way for an extension of that road out to Highway 260. Purchasing the whole 22 acres would allow the SLE to pick the most buildable land to develop its campus, said Vogel. “We’ve done everything we can to be reasonable. To expect us to buy property that is useless is too much,” said Vogel.
In a follow up conversation, McDaniel indicated the county would negotiate with the SLE based on the conditions suggested by the GCC board. That includes GCC’s concern about not ending up next door to a research park and concerns about how much land to sell.
Both Vogel and Payson Mayor Kenny Evans have suggested those conditions would probably kill the deal. They said in that case they would rather build phase one of the university campus on 67 acres of private land nearby that the SLE already has an option to buy.
Before the issues raised could be resolved, Supervisor Michael Pastor reminded the board that the agenda item simply allowed for a vote on the quit claim deed.
“I believe this item has become emotional and political up to this point. There’s nothing to hinder this project. The state requires it,” said Pastor.
By state statute, the supervisors must transfer the land they hold in trust to GCC by January 2013, said McDaniel. Now that GCC owns the land, it will be responsible to cover $300,000 in maintenance and repair costs for the existing buildings on the land for this year.
“The county has budgeted for maintenance costs this fiscal year. In January, when the board starts discussing next year’s budget, it will begin negotiating for GCC to take over the costs. What that will look like remains to be decided,” said McDaniel.