Koerner property to be considered for sale


Organizers who worked to revitalize the former Koerner Commercial Block building in Birdseye were hoping that the taxes on the site where the historic building once stood would be forgiven by the county.

Mary Ann Cummings and Archie McCutcheon of Koerner Block Inc. talked to the Dubois County Commissioners Monday to see if they would remove the $20,000 in back taxes owed on the property.

Instead, the commissioners decided to look into having a commissioners sale for the property in an attempt to recoup the back taxes on the now empty lot.

The former property owners had a purchase agreement with the organizers through Indiana Landmarks, which wanted to restore the building and get a tax-paying company to come in and use the building. But plans for revitalization went up in smoke when the building, which dated back to the 1890s, burned down from arson in October 2017.

“Right now, it’s a vacant lot,” Cummings said. “We’re hoping to get something prettier, nicer.”

Since then, Koerner Block Inc. was formed and incorporated. The organization has spent about $10,000 to clean up and clear off the property. The money came in the form of grants and donations, McCutcheon said.

He and Cummings asked the commissioners to transfer the property to Koerner Block Inc. and to forgive the back taxes.

When asked about plans for the property, Cummings said there is an investor who is interested in building on the site, which would put it back on the tax rolls. Koerner Block itself cannot develop the property.

“The nonprofit is not going to be able to build or do anything major with the property,” she said. “We don’t have the finances for that.”

County Attorney Greg Schnarr said that properties can be sold and transferred to nonprofits, but it would require lots of paperwork and several steps, including formalized presentations and hearings.

The property could also be sold through a commissioners auction, which the commissioners determined would be the fair way to do this.

“I’m looking to help them out as much as we can,” Commissioner Elmer Brames said. “If we go to a commissioners sale, that could leave them with the investment (cost) they have put in it already. I like the idea of gifting to the nonprofit, but that sounds like some paperwork and red tape in that.”

Commissioners Nick Hostetter and Chad Blessinger agreed, but added that they have to consider the whole county in this decision.

“We have the community’s needs in mind. We want Birdseye to be better for this new owner, whoever that happens to be,” Hostetter said. “But we have to be responsible to the taxpayers as well, [including the ones] who don’t live in Birdseye.”

McCutcheon stated that the organizers’ original understanding was that the property would ultimately be transferred to the nonprofit.

“We’ve got about almost $10,000 in cleanup that we’ve taken out of our nonprofit, cash, to clear this property,” he said. “It would be pretty devastating to our cashflow to spend $10,000 and have it taken out from under us.”

If the property was turned over to Koerner Block and the taxes forgiven, it could sell the property to an investor.

Cummings mentioned the purchase agreement they have with the owner for the property that has not yet been recorded with the county. Doing that kind of transfer would mean the nonprofit would have the responsibility of the back taxes, Schnarr said.

The commissioners decided that the most fair method is to look into possibly having a commissioners sale for the property, at which Koerner Block Inc. could bid.

“The best process is to open it up to a commissioner sale and start at a low price,” Blessinger said, “and either it sells or it doesn’t.”

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