By Ken de la Bastide Kokomo Tribune
---- — After a decade of discussion, Kokomo and Howard County officials have reached an agreement that will allow the city to take ownership of the Continental Steel property east of Wildcat Creek.
A memorandum of understanding between the city and county was approved by the Howard County Board of Commissioners on Monday.
The agreement states the commissioners will conduct a certificate sale of impaired properties on Dec. 9, allowing Kokomo to obtain title to the Continental Steel site and 49 other flood-damaged properties.
Obtaining the properties is part of the city’s long-range flood mitigation plan affecting land along Wildcat Creek west of Apperson Way.
Kokomo has agreed to pay a minimum of $5,000 for the Continental Steel property and a minimum of $500 for the other flood-prone properties.
Anyone may bid during the certificate tax sale to purchase the property.
Under the agreement, the county will provide assistance to the city in obtaining approval from the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance to remove the 2013 fall penalties on the 54 properties and the spring 2014 property taxes and penalties.
The county will assume no liability or responsibility for the current or prior condition of the properties.
The city should obtain ownership of the 54 properties in June through a court order.
Kokomo officials have planted 5,000 pounds of grass seed on the former Continental Steel site to the south of the intersection of Berkley Road and Markland Avenue in anticipation of construction of a 60-acre soccer complex.
Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight was noncommittal when asked about the future of the properties.
“We’re looking at the available properties,” Goodnight said. “There are some limits on how parts of the property can be used. We’re trying to determine how to repurpose that property for future use.”
Continental Steel operated several drying beds in the area, where neutralized acid was stored. The EPA and Indiana Department of Environmental Management cleaned up the site and have installed a 2-foot thick soil cover over the entire area.
Remediating the Continental Steel site cost the EPA an estimated $8.5 million.
Lawrence McCormack, city attorney, said the process has taken a long time.
“The big issue was the tax liability,” he said of the millions in taxes owed on the property and the county’s ability to sell the property for less than the amount owed.
McCormack said the city intends to purchase the remaining 49 properties located in the floodplain at the certificate sale.
Commissioner Paul Wyman said transferring ownership of the land became a priority for the city after record flooding in April.
“The discussions have been taking place for 10 years, we finally found a way to make it happen,” he said.
Tyler Moore, president of the board of commissioners, said the discussions have involved the administrations of three Kokomo mayors and five city attorneys.
“It was a more difficult process than it appeared,” he said.