The Kansas National Guard lodged objections to state auditors labeling as surplus property about a dozen acres near the Salina Municipal Airport with an estimated market value of $250,000.
The two vacant lots were identified as excess for a joint committee of the Kansas Legislature during a survey of property held by nine state agencies. This report on surplus property was another piece of a puzzle being worked by state lawmakers who have sought for years to return buildings and land to the tax roll and passed a law ordering the Kansas Department of Administration to develop criteria for speeding identification of unneeded property — a mandate the agency hasn't met.
Lt. Col. Ken Weishaar, who serves in the Kansas Army Guard, told legislators the state adjutant general's department intended to retain the parcels for construction of a $750,000 physical fitness testing facility and, eventually, an $18 million training center with classroom, conference and office space. Both projects would make use of federal funding.
"Retaining these parcels of land in the department's inventory is critical to meeting these future operational needs," Weishaar said. "The sale of either parcel significantly jeopardizes the Kansas National Guard's master plan for Salina."
The audit report also said the adjutant general's office didn't anticipate the new training center to be built for at least 20 years.
Examiners with the Legislative Division of Post Audit also identified 79 acres near the Winfield Veteran's Home that could be sold for approximately $150,000. Less than one-fourth of the property was leased to a farmer by the Kansas Commission on Veteran's Affairs.
The state veteran's commission staff informed auditors the Winfield property shouldn't be classified as surplus, because the acreage served as a buffer between the veteran's home and "potentially disruptive commercial or livestock operations."
The property review by legislative auditors looked at office buildings, storage facilities and undeveloped land that might no longer be critical to the state's mission. Excluded from the analysis was the Kansas Department of Transportation, which controls difficult-to-sell strips of land along highways. Also exempt from this audit were universities in the Kansas Board of Regents system.
Two other pieces of land determined to be excess property by auditors were the 34 acres of open ground adjacent to Winfield Correctional Facility valued at $100,000 and 10 acres of pasture held by the Kansas Department of Corrections along Soldier Creek in Topeka that could be sold for as much as $500,000 if used for residential housing. In both instances, the agencies indicated the land could be appropriately deemed surplus.
In addition, auditors found six tracts of residential land near the Topeka headquarters of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, a Topeka warehouse owned by the Kansas Department of Labor and 34 acres in Topeka used by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment that could eventually join the list of surplus properties available for sale.
The auditors noted the Department of Administration had not developed written guidance to help agencies identify and market surplus property as required by state law. The same shortcoming was identified in a 2012 audit.
"You're telling me the Department of Administration has no definition of what surplus property is?" said Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene.
Rep. Tom Burroughs, D-Kansas City, raised the possibility a state law requiring 80 percent of proceeds from sale of surplus property to be deposited with the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System served as a disincentive for agencies to unload property.
"If they sold it and it all went to them, it would be a larger incentive to maybe get rid of surplus property," Burroughs said.
The issue of revenue sharing was raised by some agencies, auditors said, but the general hassle of declaring surplus property and selling it appeared to be the central stumbling block.
Rep. Ken Corbet, a Topeka Republican, said he had proposed the audit, but was disappointed the review didn't address alternative use of some of the 156,000 acres controlled by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. He would prefer auditors maintain a county-by-county list of all state property, which could spark more interest in transferring property out of the state's hands.
Corbet said part of state's problem was defining surplus property, a situation he compared to President Bill Clinton's struggle during a White House scandal. Clinton ran into trouble by framing reports of his affair with an intern by saying his answers depended on what the "meaning of the word 'is' is."
"I'm not after anybody's property," Corbet said. "I just think government should own as little property as it can."