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Keokuk Leaders Want Auction Moved

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A recent vote by the Lee County Board of Supervisors has turned out to be anything but routine.

The panel voted on Tuesday, April 2 to hold a property tax auction on Saturday, May 11 at 9:00 A.M. at the north Lee County office building in Fort Madison.

The county plans to use the auction to get rid of properties it has, or will soon, acquire because the current or previous owners have failed to pay property taxes for several years.

The last property tax auction was held in Keokuk in 2011.  This time around, more than 50 properties are up for bid.

We want the people of Keokuk to have the opportunity to go to that sale

A majority are large, vacant lots, but there are also ten homes and three commercial buildings.

The vote by the supervisors stopped being routine after complaints started coming in regarding the decision to hold the auction in Fort Madison.

Keokuk Mayor Tom Marion says the auction should be in his city because almost every property is in Keokuk.

He says that's why he and the city council are urging the county to reverse course and change the site of the auction.

"We want the people of Keokuk to have the opportunity to go to that sale," says Marion.  "A lot of times, the adjoining property owners will buy the properties.  I don't know if (residents) will drive to Fort Madison to do that."

Marion says he also questions the fact that the location was selected by Chairman Rick Larkin and not the entire board.

"If I brought something up to a department head and said to do it, the (Keokuk) City Council would hear about it and be upset because (the members should have made the decision," says marion.  "I can make day-to-day decisions, but the full Board of Supervisors should have made that decision."

Larkin says the decision was his to make and he based it on past protocol.

"Because we don’t want to show partiality to one town or the other, one county seat over the other county seat, it has been my policy as chair to rotate these between towns," says Larkin.  "Since it was held in Keokuk last time (in 2011), this time it would be held in Fort Madison.”

Larkin says he did not consider the locations of the properties when he decided on the site.

He says it was also public knowledge for about two weeks that the auction would be held in Fort Madison, yet no one came to the public hearing on April 2 to voice opposition.

Another concern that has been raised concerns the selection of the auctioneer, in this case, Steffensmeier Auction Company of Fort Madison.

Larkin says a phone book was used in the process.  He says the county requested bids from any firm listed in the yellow pages that was based in Lee County.

Larkin says Steffensmeier Auction Company was the only company to reply.

He says there has been no ulterior motive throughout the entire process.

"We are not trying to pass anything over anyone’s head or doing anything devious or anything like that," says Larkin.  "As far as I know, we did everything proper as the law prescribes."

The Lee County Board of Supervisors can reconsider the location during its meeting on Tuesday, May 9.

Keokuk Mayor Tom Marion hopes that happens.
He plans to bring a large contingent to the meeting to encourage another vote, and he says the city is willing to help pay for any additional expenses incurred by moving the location of the auction.

Buildings Included in the Auction
1211 Avenue D (FM)
608 Concert (Keo)
217 S. 9th (Keo)
1317 Des Moines (Keo)
707 Main (Keo)
429 S. 2nd (Keo)
818 Main (Keo)
920 Concert (Keo)
1426 Carroll (Keo)
718 Morgan (Keo)
304 N. 5th (Keo)
411 N. 11th (Keo)
719 Main (Keo)

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.