Legislation | Committees 

   Taxpayers Get Fleeced by Slow College

The San Diego Community College District offers yet another example of how government officials cost taxpayers millions of dollars unnecessarily. In this case, the district costs taxpayers more by simply not acting on decisions to purchase land in a timely manner.

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune (May 19, 2008),
The San Diego Community College District routinely paid more than its appraisals for property needed to expand campuses because it didn't act quickly enough when real estate prices were skyrocketing.  Officials spent about $81 million buying 25 properties across the city as part of a voter-approved effort in 2002 and 2006 to upgrade the state's second-largest community college district.”

Unfortunately for taxpayers, the San Diego Union-Tribune found that purchase prices exceeded appraisals in more than 70 percent of property transactions. In at least three instances, a lag between when the district identified properties and when it bid on them cost additional millions.

According to the Union-Tribune, In 18 of its 25 property purchases, the district paid more than the appraisals it had received on the properties. Over the years, that has added up to $2.9 million. In about one-third of the cases, the district paid at least 10 percent over the appraised price.” In three of the land deals, “the San Diego Community College District spent $40.3 million buying three properties whose values skyrocketed by more than $10 million in the months before the district closed the deals.”

Unbelievably, officials
publicly approved plans to buy [one] property… in August 2005, but didn’t end up buying it until January 2007. In the interim, the building changed ownership and jumped in value by millions of dollars. District officials did two things that worked against them: they told real estate agents of their interest in the land, and they failed to buy it as its value skyrocketed.”

At a time when government at every level is experiencing budget shortfalls and is forced to make tough fiscal decisions, you would think that district officials would be more prudent with taxpayer money. However, “[d]istrict officials say they struggled with many challenges but remain satisfied with the way they conducted business.” Sadly, there have been no consequences for district officials who misspent community college funds, as there would be for businesses making such poor decisions.

District officials have offered no reason for delaying the purchase of property for the district. Perhaps better oversight, accountability and real consequences for district officials who spend taxpayer money recklessly would challenge district officials to reason through their decisions more carefully and buy before prices go up. To quote Abraham Lincoln,
Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.”

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