Taxpayers digging Selah out of $5 million property blunder

Taxpayers digging Selah out of $5 million property blunder
SELAH, Wash. -- The city of Selah bought a big chunk of land near Wenas Road for about $5 million around ten years ago.

The plan was to build a city building, such as a police department.

However, the plan fell through because homeland security said it was too dangerous to be near the railroad.

The city eventually sold some portions of the property to businesses like Les Schwab. But, Selah still owes $4 million on the property.

"It's a huge loss, I don't understand why they would stand to lose that much,” Troy Helms said.

Troy Helms and his brother bought a piece of the property a few years ago. They built Helms True Value Hardware.

The city recently listed the rest of the vacant property nearby with a commercial Realtor. KIMA is told the rest of the property is worth less than $1 million.

"I've inherited this problem and it's my responsibility to the people to find the appropriate solution,” Selah Mayor John Gawlik said in a telephone interview.

Gawlik says he doesn't blame the previous administration for what could be considered a big mistake. The debt recently forced the city to increase the utility tax rate by 17 percent.

"Nobody's happy to have tax rates or utility rates increase,” Gawlik said. “I'm a taxpayer myself and I don't like to have to pay more."

The city says it hopes the realtors could sell the properties quickly. People who already bought into the area hope so as well.

“It just brings more traffic into the area, more potential customers for our own business,” Troy said.

"I am accountable because of the position that I hold with the city," Gawlik said. "People put me here because they wanted me to do a job and I'm attempting to do that."

The city says it placed a sunset on the utility rate increase and hopes to the pay off the debt within ten years.