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Schuylkill won’t say amount of Giant appraisal

The public has the answer to one of two questions regarding the appraisal of the former Giant property in Pottsville.

County engineer Lisa Mahall said Friday Frank Gownley, SRA, Pottsville, did the appraisal July 7.

Schuylkill County administrator Gary Bender said Gownley was on a list approved as a designee earlier in the summer. He still was unwilling to provide the appraisal amount.

“I can’t give you that information,” he said Wednesday.

Bender referred questions to first assistant county solicitor Glenn Roth.

Roth said the county is not releasing the appraisal because it would jeopardize negotiation with entity.

“It’s just common sense,” he said.

He said another entity could learn of amount and bid another amount.

Roth said the appraisal is exempt from the public right now because it under an exemption in the Right To Know law pertaining to real estate.

He cited section 708 subsection 22 which states “The contents of real estate appraisals, engineering or feasibility estimates, environmental reviews, audits or evaluations made for or by an agency relative to the following: (A) The leasing, acquiring or disposing of real property or an interest in real property. (B) The purchase of public supplies or equipment included in the real estate transaction. (C) Construction projects.

It further states the paragraph “shall not apply once the decision is made to proceed with the lease, acquisition or disposal of real property or an interest in real property or the purchase of public supply or construction project.”

Roth said the public will eventually know the appraised value of the property, but he couldn’t say when.

Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, Harrisburg, said Friday the applicable section correct.

However, the county has discretion on if it wants to release information.

“The RTK law is not a confidential statute. It never requires an agency to deny access,” she said.

The county could have an interest in not releasing the information but that doesn’t mean is has to keep it from the public.

Once a decision is made, the county must release the information, which in this instance is the appraisal amount.

The county and city both have expressed an interest in the former Giant at 500 Progress Avenue that closed in July.

Its potential use by the county for a pre-release center for nonviolent offenders has caused uproar in the community. The center, also known as an intermediate punishment center, would be for those with alcohol or mental health concerns who could obtain treatment at the center.

County officials have not committed to what it definitely will be used for if purchased. Among the options for the site are a warehouse for storage, more room for county employees and even a pre-release center, something commissioner Gary Hess said he will not vote for, saying the property has developmental potential for revitalization efforts underway in the city.

No decision has been made on the property, Bender said.

Bender, Mahal and Finance Director Paul Buber are on the administrative team that will make a formal recommendation to the commissioners.

The topic once again was mentioned by the public at Wednesday’s commissioners meeting.

Jeff Dunkel of Palo Alto called in to question why the appraisal and name of entity who conducted the appraisal wasn’t released.

Savas Logothetides, executive director of the Pottsville Area Development Corporation, said “While potentially legal, the fact that the appraised value is not being made public is a disservice to the taxpayers. The taxpayers of the county paid for the appraisal and should know the value so that they have an educated basis on whether this type of purchase makes sense for the county. The lack of transparency is becoming increasingly troublesome with regard to both this significant business transaction but a number of other items within the courthouse,” Logothetides said.

He said Pottsville City Council passed a resolution at its meeting this week in opposition to the potential purchase of the property.

Logothetides added the city and taxpayers will hurt economically by removing property on the city tax rolls that has private interest and by removing money from the Pottsville Parking Authority.

“The county already receives a 40 percent discount on parking and this amount of revenue that would be lost makes up for 10 percent of the PPA budget annually. Ultimately, with this type of loss, once again, the shortfall will fall to both tourists visiting Pottsville, people looking to do business in Pottsville, and the taxpayers of the city of Pottsville,” Logothetides said.

The former Giant location has about 150 parking spaces the county could use commissioners said.