Saturday, December 14th, 2013
By William Kincaid
City takes initial step toward land purchase
  CELINA - City council members Friday night passed the first reading of legislation authorizing the purchase of the Mercelina Mobile Court and the former Versa Pak property for $2.94 million.
If approved, The Bryson Trust Fund would pay 90 percent of the deal; the city would pay $300,000 from its general fund. The mobile home park would be purchased for $2.2 million and the former Versa Pak property - owned by John Larbus of Findlay - would be acquired for $745,000.
The properties would be used to expand the city's lakefront parks.
Second reading of the legislation is at the next regular council meeting at 7 p.m. Jan. 13.
The action was taken during a special meeting Friday when council members heard from several tenants of the trailer park who were upset about the prospect of losing their homes. All council members except Ed Jeffries and Jeff Larmore voted for the purchase. Jeffries voted no; Larmore abstained.
Attorney Lou Schiavone, who represents the stakeholders of the Mercelina Mobile Court, emphasized that Mercelina Mobile Court Company, its 13 trustees including Jerry and Verdice Brandts, and The Bryson Trust Fund managers initiated discussions with the city, not the other way around.
"The park was going to discontinue operations in 2014 regardless of whether the city purchases the property or not," Schiavone said.
Schiavone said the owners of the park want to return the land to its original purpose of public grounds and to discontinue the commercial use of the park.
"This body should not allow this opportunity to slip away for a third time and for another hundred plus years," Schiavone told council members, noting the city could have purchased the land in 1894 and 1932.
Despite Schiavone's explanations and assurances that tenants would be treated with dignity, respect and due process of the law - including extended time to ultimately vacate the park by August - many in the audience voiced anger and dismay.
According to some in attendance, the park's population consists of elderly, disabled and low-income residents who can't afford to move elsewhere and feel they should be compensated.
Others said they made investments to their homes in recent years that they'll lose.
According to city council president Jason King, the city's part of the deal is to purchase the land after the trailers are moved.
"All we're doing is we're buying the land at a reasonable price," councilman Mike Sovinski said.
Council member Jeremy Hinton said he is confident the city is doing the right thing by proceeding to purchase desired park ground with $300,000 of taxpayer money.
The Bryson Trust Fund, the major funding source for the purchase, was bequeathed by prominent city attorney Ed L. Bryson upon his death on Jan. 11, 1950. It is managed and controlled by First Financial Bank Vice President and Trust Officer Collin Bryan and Mercer County Probate Court Judge Mary Pat Zitter.
Celina Mayor Jeff Hazel addressed the question of whether city officials negotiated on a purchase price with the land owners.
"Bryson doesn't buy anything," he said. "The city buys it, Bryson reimburses because we're the sole beneficiary of that trust ... their form of negotiations is whether they agree to the purchase price or not."
The Mercelina Mobile Court property will be used to expand and enhance the Lake Shore Park region by connecting Mercelina Park and Pullman Bay Park.
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