Florence County treasurer says council is wasting taxpayer money

The vacant building on North Baroody Street in downtown Florence is at the center of controversy.

Florence County Treasurer, Dean Fowler, Junior, is furious at what Florence County council paid this week to buy the building for a future courthouse.

Fowler said, "You look behind me this $551,443 of tax payer money paid to buy this derelict building in downtown Florence. This is absolutely absurd."

Fowler says it's absurd based on the Florence County Tax Assessors Office value of the land which is $45,600.

Officials at the Tax Assessors Office say there is no tax value on the building because it was last used as a church, so it has a tax exempt status.

"If I were a tax payer and I am, it makes me furious. I can't stand to think that stewardship of taxpayer money is being blown like this," said Fowler.

Florence County councilman James Schofield says no one is blowing taxpayer money.

"It is very complex buying land and trying to get the best deal for the taxpayer in the long-run," said Schofield.

Schofield argues the tax assessor's value of the land is always lower than that of a commercial appraisal because it's not as indepth.

He says the land was appraised at $233,000, but the seller initially wanted $1 million.

Council offered $370,000, but the seller refused.

Schofield said, "We then offered $450,000. He refused that one. He gave us a signed offer binding on his company of $550,000."

Schofield says the piece of property is key for a future courthouse that the county desperately needs. He says court officials are operating out of 50 ,000 square feet of space at the Florence City County Courthouse, when they need 120 ,000 square feet. He says Florence County has the same court case load as Horry County.

Schofield says when the seller showed council his plans to renovate the building, , they knew they had to make a move because to buy the building after the renovations could have cost them upwards of $800,000.

Schofield says to condemn the proper t y or take it by eminent domain may not work out in their favor in a court law.

"We felt like that at this time , to ensure we have a place to build a future courthouse or any other office , was to pay the price that he asked , even though it was more than we wanted to pay , it would have been cheaper than condemnation," said Schofield.

The county has bought seven pieces of land for the future courthouse.

They hope to build it when the economy fully recovers.