STEPS TO ACQUISITION – Part VI of 9 parts

This is also available on http://www.dep.state.fl.us/lands/AcqHistory.htm  Authors are James A. Farr and O. Greg Brock, Florida Division of State Lands.

The actual acquisition process occurs in several discrete steps spelled out in detail in Chapter 259, Florida Statues, and by administrative rule.

After a project is approved by the Governor and Cabinet, and if it is deemed to be sufficiently important for acquisition to begin on at least one of the ownerships within the project, it is given to our Bureau of Survey and Mapping for title research and preparation of an appraisal map.  The appraisal map is not a survey, but rather is based on plats, aerial phointerpretation and other information available from public records.  It typically delineates wetland and upland acreages, known easements on the property, and any other features that might affect the value of the land.

The complete appraisal map is then given to the Bureau of Appraisal.   Appraisals are conducted by private-sector professionally-licensed property appraisers under contract to the state.  For parcels whose value is estimated to be $1,000,000 or less, one appraiser is used.   For parcels values above $1,000,000, two independent appraisers are used.  Their appraisals are then submitted to a third review appraiser, also under contract to the state, who evaluated the work to ensure compliance with statutory and rule requirements and to make a professional judgment as to suitability of comparable sales and other factors.  The review appraiser then submits the finished report to the Bureau.  If the higher of two appraisals exceeds the lower by more than 20 percent, a third appraiser may be asked to provide another opinion.   The higher of the two appraisals or the higher of the two closest appraisals in the event of a third appraisal becomes the maximum price that we are allowed to pay for the property unless a majority of the Governor and Cabinet votes to exceed that maximum.   Under Florida law, the results of the appraisals and the establishment of the maximum price we can pay are not revealed to the potential seller until two weeks prior to the meeting of the Governor and Cabinet at which approval of the purchase will be considered.

The appraisal results are given to an acquisition agent in our Bureau of Land Acquisition.  The agent then develops a negotiation strategy that must be approved by management. This strategy spells out the opening offer and the maximum that we will offer.  The Governor and Cabinet typically do not like to pay the full appraisal value of property, so the Bureau must balance the importance of the resources we wish to protect with the insistence by our elected officials that we negotiate a good deal for the State.  Each step in the negotiation itself (initial offer, counteroffers and final agreed upon price) is done in writing.   When the negotiations are complete, the acquisition agent, with our legal staff, prepares a contract for sale that must be agreed to by both parties.

We must emphasize that Florida’s acquisition program depend on willing sellers.  Although we have the statutory authority to use the power of eminent domain to acquire conservation land under certain circumstances, we have only done so very rarely, and then very reluctantly.   In the vast majority of cases, if an owner is unwilling to sell his or her land, we will not pursue it.

If the final negotiated purchase price exceeds $250,000, the acquisition must be approved by the Governor and Cabinet at one of their biweekly public meetings.   The Cabinet and their staff receive agenda packages with details of the property being acquired, assignment of a manger, negotiation steps, final price, and the results of the appraisals.  It is at this time that the maximum price the state could pay is revealed publicly.

When the Cabinet approves the purchase, the acquisition package then goes to our closing agents.  It is at this time that a final survey is done, any title problems are resolved, and an environmental site assessment is performed to identify and remove any potential hazardous substances on site.   The survey determines the final acreage, and the purchase price is adjusted to reflect deviation from the acreage estimated from the original appraisal map.  Finally, the state pays the landowner and takes title to the property.

The final step in the acquisition process is to lease the property to the designed manager of the property.  This is done by the Bureau of Public Land Administration, which oversees all property the state owns, including conservation lands, submerged lands, and any other land owned by the state for other purposes (schools, prisons, state office buildings, etc.)

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