County sues to get back fire dept. it sold for $100
By: Rebecca Schleicher, Primetime Reporter - bio | email
The Cedar Lake Volunteer Fire Dept can answer up to 500 fire and medical calls a year.
But now, the emergency is their own.
A county clerical error added the department's land to a list of private property where owners weren't paying taxes. So the county put the land up for auction and sold it to county maintenance employee Howie Sutton for $100.
"That's a pretty good shock to know that it actually got sold," said Cedar Lake Fire volunteer Randy Gipson, "not that it was thinking about it, but it actually got sold right out from under you."
"It's a human error, it's an accident," said Canadian County Commissioner Dave Anderson, whose district includes Cedar Lake.
Anderson says part of the problem was the land's confusing description.
"Cedar Lake Block L dash 2, that's the legal description of the tract," he read off the deed. He admits the commissioners did not research the current use for the land before signing off on the sale.
"Elected officials are humans and we make mistakes and we will learn from this mistake ," he said.
Tuesday Assistant District Attorney Paul Hesse filed a county lawsuit against Sutton, seeking to invalidate the sale.
It says the County did not have the authority to sell the property in the first place. The land was originally donated by the Cedar Lake Western Sportsman Club, Inc. subdivision, which was supposed to have the first option to re-purchase the land.
And firefighters say if the sale is not stopped it could put hundreds of people in serious danger. The fire dept. covers 250 square miles of land.
"Lots of things would burn," Gipson said.
"The county's prepared to take whatever steps we can to retain ownership," Anderson promised from his office.
And while the fight is already starting, volunteers still hope the new owner will sign their land back to them quietly.
"If he has a desire to help the community this would be one small piece he could actually give back and do a good part," Gipson said.
FOX 25 reached out to both Howie Sutton and his attorney but our several calls were not returned.
Anderson says the commissioners have already researched the current use for every other "tax delinquent" property to ensure something like this does not happen again.