THORNVILLE – After the sale of the former Thorn Township Fire Department building, Thornville officials discovered that the village owns half the property the building sits upon. “The attorneys have it now, the (Perry County) prosecutor has it now,” said Thorn Township Trustee Bob Coleman.
Trustee Dale Factor said depending on the information Perry County Prosecutor Joe Flautt receives, the sale may need to be reversed. “Nobody was aware there was any sort of problem with it,” said Factor.
Thornville Mayor Gavin Renner said the issue is very complex, and began in 1948, when the village and township decided to combine forces and form a joint fire department for storage of equipment. Previously, Thornville owned the entire lot at the corner of East Columbus and Church streets where the former town hall was located. At the time, Council decided to sell one half undivided interest in the rear portion of the lot to the township. “This means for the area where the former firehouse building is, the township owns half and the village owns half,” he said. The village still exclusively owns the area where the old town hall stood.
According to records, a joint fire department board composed of two township trustees and two council members was formed to organize the department. Additionally money was collected through subscription to build the building, meaning both the village and township contributed to building construction.
“Fast forward 60 years and it seems that the dual ownership was forgotten,” said Renner. He said that in 2011, the township advertised and “sold” the property. The title search for that sale allegedly did not uncover the dual ownership issue. Later, at a different sale attempt, the dual ownership was uncovered.
“Our village solicitor has confirmed that the village does own one-half undivided interest in the former firehouse. Additionally, Renner said the solicitor confirmed that in order for the village to dispose of its one-half undivided interest, it must follow the process for disposition of property outlined in Ohio Revised Code. “The village isn’t under any obligation to sell the property,” said Renner. “We are obligated to follow the process should we choose that option.”
Coleman said former Thorn Township Trustee Tim Phipps purchased the property.
“Unfortunately, I’m not an expert on real estate so I don’t know enough about it to understand whether the sale was valid or not,” said Renner. “I can confirm that the township followed a process to dispose of the property and that money was exchanged. I assume at the time, Mr. Phipps assumed he was purchasing the entire property.”
Renner said he believes someone is currently living at the property. “The Village has not initiated any action to remove anyone from the building nor asked anyone to vacate,” he said. “One thing that has happened is the village added insurance to the building to cover its liability should something happen.”
Renner said from his perspective, the original purpose of the joint fire department is to provide fire protection for both the township and the village. “By combining forces there is a benefit to everyone in terms of equipment, personnel and facilities,” he said. “My understanding is that the trustees intended for the proceeds of the sale to go toward this noble purpose. I don’t think anyone questions that aspect.” However, said Renner, the village is obligated to do things according to law. “In this case, Ohio Law provides a specific process to follow to sell our one-half undivided interest. We can do that, but it would have to be a public sale. Anyone could purchase the onehalf undivided interest offered.” The village is obligated to sell to the highest bidder.
In other village news, Renner said the village inadvertently held a meeting that was not properly advertised. He said the village solicitor said that what’s done is done, and don’t do it again.
“There was an information gathering session held on a Sunday to prepare for the regular Monday meeting. It was an exception and won’t be happening again,” said Renner, adding that the same information was presented later at the regular committee meeting. “I’ve made it clear that all committee meetings need to follow the Sunshine Law because when they meet with a quorum (in Thornville’s case two or more members) they need to be posted in five public locations around the village.” Additionally, he said the minutes need to be made available to the public for inspection and the meeting needs to occur in a public forum.
“Our attorney advised that we should be careful not to violate Sunshine Law as it can lead to fines for the village, therefore I’m planning to follow the law and make sure we meet our obligations to the public,” said Renner.
The mayor said all council and committee meetings on the advice of the village attorney are advertised at the five locations specified by ordinance. “This is the first case where that didn’t happen,” said Renner. “As far as I’m concerned it’s the last time that it will occur.”