COLUMBIA, SC (AP) The state doubled its purchase price on a tiny tract of land in order to get Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer to sell property needed for a road project in Irmo.
The state Transportation Department paid Bauer $130,000 for a tenth of an acre, after Bauer held out for more money, according to records The Greenville News obtained under the state’s Freedom of Information Act. That higher price came as a highway commissioner and state senator attended a meeting with Bauer and a Transportation Department staff member.
Bauer said he had no special treatment in the deal for buildings and property bought a decade ago, before he first held public office. Bauer makes a living buying and selling property.
Bauer bought a quarter acre near Irmo in 1996 for $52,000. He says it is now worth $250,000.
“There was no special treatment, and the sales price I received was far less than I would have accepted from any other purchaser,” Bauer said. “Unfortunately, when the government takes your land, you have no choice but to sell … even if you’re an elected official.”
Public officials were aware of who they were dealing with.
On April 22, 2004, the agency’s executive director, Elizabeth Mabry, wrote Bauer and said that she instructed the director of the right of way office, Oscar Rucker, “to work directly with you to ensure that your case is given the attention needed in order to have this matter resolved.”
Mabry said that was a standard letter. She would not comment on the case, telling the newspaper: “I don’t know that many details about it.”
If the state had to take Bauer to court, the lieutenant governor’s “testimony could have resulted in a jury award greater than the settlement” because “the landowner was very persuasive and was well known,” Rucker later wrote as he explained the $130,000 offer.
The state wanted the land to widen State 60, or Lake Murray Boulevard, to four lanes near Irmo. The state has settled with owners of 92 of the 113 parcels it needs for construction, which began last year.
Typically, if the state wants land for a road project, it uses an appraisal and offers the landowner money for the rights to the land. If the landowner refuses offers, the agency can condemn land and take the property owner to court to resolve the compensation issue.
County tax records show Bauer’s quarter-acre of land and buildings were valued at $58,530.
Anthony Martin, the transportation department’s appraiser in Bauer’s case, valued the land and buildings at $82,500. The Transportation Department offered two alternatives: $62,762 for just the land they needed, or $63,682 for part of one parcel and all of the other.
Bauer argued the land was worth more because it would be beside the widened highway, but the state disagreed.
In 2003, Rucker scheduled a meeting with Bauer. John “Moot” Truluck, of Lake City, a highway commissioner, and Sen. Yancey McGill, a Williamsburg County Democrat whose son is Bauer’s executive assistant, attended the meeting.
McGill said he had overheard Bauer talking about the issue. He advised Bauer to settle and avoid a court fight. McGill, a member of Senate Transportation Committee, said he volunteered to attend the meeting and asked Truluck to come. Truluck, who represents McGill’s district, said the senator asked him to introduce Bauer to Rucker.
After that introduction, Truluck said he spoke to the lieutenant governor just once — telling Bauer that the department’s offer seemed reasonable.
McGill and Truluck said they don’t think their attendance at the meeting helped the lieutenant governor.
At the meeting, Rucker increased the offer to $130,000 for the tenth of an acre or $145,000 for all the land, a memo showed.
Bauer left the meeting insisting the land was worth more. Weeks later, he agreed to the $130,000.
The settlement, Rucker later wrote, “eliminates the additional cost of litigation as well as the demolition cost associated with the building to be moved by the landowner and is in the best interest of the public treasury.”
McGill, who has been involved in previous negotiations with the Transportation Department, said property owners shouldn’t take the first offer.
“I would venture to say if others sit back and do not call a meeting, they would end up with a much lesser price,” McGill said. If Bauer “had sat back, he would have probably ended up with $80,000 or $90,000.”