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LETTERS / Mr. Deal, What More Can We Learn Than We Already Know?

Dear Editor,

David Blust is offering the citizens an input in what will be done with the old WHS property.  We appreciate this opportunity as we were misled for so many years by the Board of Education and the County Commissioners.   The Board of Education owned the old WHS while their attorney worked with 3 investors who made formal offers to purchase the school for over two years, offers of $33, $32 and $30 million in 2006.  Commissioner Deal as the lead spokesperson said of the Boards’ decision to not accept any of these offers, “their advisers told them it would be worth much more in four years”.  Mr. Deal doesn’t understand what more we could find out that we don’t already know.  We know we have been misled and his cronies benefited.  This is an opportunity for citizens to finally have input in this dubious process of which Mr. Deal has no intention of gleaming anything new.

The Board of Education decided to give old WHS to the County for $1 on 8/3/2007:  “A motion was made by Ron Henries and seconded by Dr. Warren to transfer ownership of the current WHS to Watauga County Commissioners for use as collateral for bonds for construction of the new WHS. A lease from the Commissioners for the current WHS was requested until the new facility is completed. The motion passed unanimously.”

There is no question the property was given to the County to offset the cost of the new high school; there should be no question the property is to be sold and the proceeds used to pay toward the loan.  When the County was applying for the loan for the new WHS, they told the LGC the old WHS would be sold and used to repay a short-term loan of $25 million.  This $25 million loan was not renegotiated with a lower interest rate by BB&T earlier this year, is still outstanding and needs to be paid down as soon as possible.

Why does David Blust want the people to have a public hearing?  Commissioner Blust is all too aware of how we were deceived knows what the real plans are.  He tried to stop the deception years ago by asking for a bond referendum that would have held officials accountable and would have required the sale of the old WHS property instead of speculation by the Boards’ so-called “advisers”.    A referendum would have saved us tens of millions.

What were we told? 

1. “Deal said new information keeps coming in, and that an estimate of renovation costs came in at nearly $35 million…. Deal said money spent on considering building a new facility at the current site was well spent, with estimates coming in between $43 million and $48 million…”.  [Source – Watauga Democrat- County boards select high school property– 7/27/2006]

“To address some specific points of Ms. Greene’s letter; regarding the Smitherman/Winkler property purchase, I am of the opinion that if the acreage was placed on the market today, it would bring $3.5 million or more.  The current plan for this parcel is to be included with   the adjacent high school property (old WHS) and sold once the new high school property is occupied.  It is anticipated the County will net $33 million or more from the sale of these two properties.  I will not dignify the claims of unethical behavior with response but note that it is not unusual for an attorney to pay for an appraisal or other fees for services out of his operating funds to be reimbursed at a later time by the entity by which he is employed.”  [Source – Letter dated 8/17/2006 from County Commissioners to Local Government Commission in response to Deborah Greene’s letter disputing Board’s value of old WHS and conflict of interest in purchases of new high school site.  Board of Education attorney was withholding appraisal claiming ownership; he was reimbursed on 4/7/2006 check number 519295]

“School board chairman Andy Reese said the school board and county had been discussing the status of the high school for more than a decade, and that renovation had been considered.  When the price tag for renovation exceeded $45 million, he said, the school board said selling the present property and building a new building was the best option.”…”In July, the commissioners and school board announced a plan to build on the Perkinsville site and, once the new facility is complete, to sell the current high school property for $36 million.”  [Source – Watauga Democrat –  County will spend $7 million on new Watauga High School site– 10/18/2006]

FACT:  Cost of new construction exceeds $80 million with the land cost was over $7 million for a total of in excess of $87 million. The old WHS property has continued to decline in value with the last offer being $9 million.  [Source – Watauga County Finance Department and current appraisal in County Administrative office files.]

2.  “Deal said at least five serious written offers had been received, the highest being a baseline figure of $33 million.  He said the property would continue to increase in value and regular annual growth would generate enough funds to pay for the school without additional tax increases.” [ Source -Watauga Democrat- County boards select high school property-7/27/2006]

FACT:  The Board of Education turned down 3 offers with an appraisal of $15 million on the property. [Source – Bids at Watauga County administrative office; Appraisal, March 2006, by Tennille & Associates for Board of Education attorney and located at both administrative offices of Board of Education and County Commissioners.]

3.  Watauga Democrat – County faces property tax hike -5/24/2005:  We are told of a temporary 5 cent tax hike to expire in 5 years.  And, we were told taxes would not increase to build the new high school.  The spin was:  “He said (Deal) the county could continue the tax increase adopted last year to fund school construction, and said with normal growth, it would pay for the school over 20 years.  That 4.5 cents per $100 valuation adopted in 2005 dropped to 3.4 cents after revaluation. ‘When you hear there’s going to be a tax increase to pay for this building, it’s simply not true, he said.”  And, County Commissioners also told the LGC there would not be a tax increase when defending decision to not have a bond referendum.  [Source – resolution in Watauga County BOC Minutes for temporary tax increase, letters from county commissioners to LGC and Watauga Democrat – County boards select high school property– 7/27/2006] 

FACT:  The temporary tax increase was made permanent; hence a tax increase.  [Source – Watauga County BOC Minutes where tax increase was made permanent.]

4)  According to the August 2011 Watauga County Commissioner Minutes, we were told we would “pay below appraised value” for new high school site.

FACT:  We paid over way over value and the NC Appraisal Board suspended the licenses of 3 appraisers and found probable cause to hold an appraisal fraud hearing on 10 appraisals.  However, the appraisers plead “No Contest”. 


Deborah Greene