MOUNT VERNON — Apple Valley property owner Gary Phalen hasn’t yet recovered from the shock of seeing his name associated with a foreclosure lawsuit. But from the beginning, he wasn’t the object of the suit. His anger and a perceived indifference of response from the county drove Phalen to request an audience with the county commissioners Thursday afternoon.
Phalen owns a lot with a rental house on Lakeview Heights Drive in Apple Valley, but the lot threatened with foreclosure is next door, according to paperwork Phalen showed the commissioners. According to property lines plotted on the county’s Geographic Information System computer, the house on Phalen’s lot appears to encroach upon the lot being foreclosed.
Phalen’s original purchasing survey shows there is no encroachment, a fact upon which everyone now agrees. Phalen expressed anger that the county didn’t sort out the apparent encroachment before filing the lawsuit.
Representing the county engineer’s map department, Scott Snyder said there are alignment problems with a large number of the lots in Apple Valley. This, he said, apparently goes back to the original contractor who entered the information into the computer. Snyder said he suspects the contractor used a transferal technique known as “rubber sheeting,” which transfers a number of properties at once, instead of building the property lines one by one. The problem is, said Snyder, if one large sheet becomes slightly distorted, it can start throwing adjacent sheets off, compounding the problem. Snyder said the problem can be fixed, but not easily.
“We’d have to take the GIS system off line for a month to fix it,” he said, explaining that the only proper way to fix the problem is to go in and rebuild computer drawings of all of the nearly 6,000 Apple Valley lots, one property line at a time, positioning each lot in reference to a known geographical reference point, such as a survey stake.
Snyder pointed out the GIS is on line for informational purposes only, and that no reference to how property lines looked on GIS would be likely to stand up in a court of law.
Phalen asked, since the foreclosure process goes from the treasurer’s office to the prosecutor’s office to attorney Kenneth Lane, who is kept on retainer by the county to file such cases, why is it no one had checked with the map department?
“Why is it impossible for everyone in this building to communicate?” he asked.
Contacted for comment during the meeting, Knox County Treasurer Sandra Mizer said that although she knew there were some GIS problems in Apple Valley, she was under the impression the system was generally accurate, thus she and others assumed the information was correct. She said this was the first such problem arising from referencing the GIS, out of a higher than usual number of foreclosures being processed.
Phalen said in the meeting with commissioners that Mizer had said this to him as well, and that he felt a heavy workload was no excuse for what he termed “shoddy work.” Mizer countered that naming Phalen in the lawsuit was merely for informational purposes, so he could double check and make sure there were no problems with his property lines.
Lane agreed with Mizer that no action was threatened against Phalen’s property, that he was just being informed in case there was a problem. Lane said this is a standard courtesy, because if there had been any real encroachment or encroachments, the neighbor or neighbors might be interested in buying the foreclosed property.
“If they don’t have any interest in the property, then they don’t need to do anything,” Lane said. “Ultimately the case will take care of itself.”
Phalen said he would have to file an answer in court to the paperwork. He said the Apple Valley Property Owners have filed a cross complaint as well.
Lane said this is the first problem case he’s seen in the four years he’s been processing foreclosure cases for the county.
County Prosecutor John Thatcher agreed the problem has not been widespread.
“I appreciate the fact that Mr. Phalen brought this issue up to our office,” Thatcher said. “I brought the situation to the auditor’s attention, so we can see if there is a system problem we need to fix.”
Commissioner Allen Stockberger said it seemed to him that with county business being slower than usual right now, this would be the ideal time to fix the GIS problems in Apple Valley.
“I am not satisfied to have known errors and do nothing about them,” Stockberger said. “That is not OK with me.”
But he added that he was not Snyder’s boss nor the boss of any other elected county official, thus he would be unable to enforce any revisions or new rules.
Snyder said he personally would make an effort to prioritize fixing the Apple Valley GIS plotting as soon as possible, although he could not guarantee a time frame.
Phalen said if any improvements were made in serving county residents, he would be satisfied.
In other business, the commissioners signed applications for the permit to install new wastewater facilities at Apple Valley.
The commissioners made a resolution to set the bond for an appeal to a March 28 ruling which voted down the proposed vacation of Leedy Lane, on the county line between Richland and Knox counties. The ruling was made in a joint session of the Richland and Knox county commissioners.
The appeal was filed by the township trustees of Jefferson Township in Richland County. Stockberger said he was surprised the trustees would spend the money to hire a lawyer, when they already have an existing gentlemen’s agreement with Knox County’s Berlin Township that the latter would take care of any county line road on the eastern end of Leedy Road, which would include Leedy Lane.