CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Leaders of the House of Delegates Committee on Government Organization today called for a complete investigation into the state’s Real Estate Division to determine if the state is paying for any other properties it is no longer using.
In recent weeks, investigative journalists and the state Auditor’s Office have detailed the circumstances surrounding the state’s payment of nearly $1 million for office space in the Middletown Mall that had been vacated in 2015.
Lawmakers were aghast that the state for nearly three years continued to pay a lease on property it had vacated. House Committee on Government Organization Gary Howell, R-Mineral, and Vice-Chairman Danny Hamrick, R-Harrison, are now calling for a complete investigation into the Real Estate Division to determine if the state is paying for any other properties it is not using.
Chairman Howell cited a law passed in 2007, West Virginia code §5A-10-10, which requires the Division to review the state’s inventory of real estate at least every four years to identify any properties owned or leased by the state that are either not being used or being substantially underused.
“I am calling for an investigation into the Real Estate Division for failing to follow this law,” Chairman Howell said. “Had they started generating these reports in 2007, we could have had three property reports submitted by now, and it’s possible this Middletown Mall property would have been identified years ago, before Auditor J.B. McCuskey found it.
“We cannot expect taxpayers to pay for government waste and we are going after it,” Chairman Howell said. “Our investigation into the state’s vehicle fleet led to the discovery of hundreds of vehicles we don’t need and will end up saving the taxpayers millions of dollars in the years to come, and I expect an investigation into the Real Estate Division will have similar results. We’ve already found one case of the state paying for a lease that was cancelled three years ago, how many more will we find when we do a full investigation?"
Delegates Howell and Hamrick said the Middletown Mall debacle was the latest in a series of bad purchases and decisions on the part of the Real Estate Division and state property administrators. Past blunders included spending $3.5 million to renovate buildings at the Division of Juvenile Services’ Davis Center complex only to let the building sit abandoned. The state also paid $87,000 to replace the roof on the former Building 24 in Clarksburg, only to let it stand vacant for several years until its demolition in 2011.
Vice-Chairman Hamrick said the investigation is essential to protect taxpayers from suffering any more wasteful spending.
“I wish I could say the Auditor’s discovery of the waste of almost $1 million of taxpayer money was a surprise, but it sadly isn’t,” Vice-Chairman Hamrick said. “Far too often when the Government Organization Committee begins an investigation of a state agency, we find issue upon issue that could have easily been corrected if some complacent bureaucrat would have been doing their job and following the laws already in place instead of setting their own set of standards.
“We have to make sure this real estate blunder doesn’t happen again,” Vice-Chairman Hamrick said. “We’re not going to be like the Legislatures of the past that just kept raising taxes and fees on our citizens to make up for not having a handle on what they were spending that money on.”