DANVILLE — With some farmland in the Midwest selling for more than $10,000 an acre, officials are thinking now is the time to sell the 126 acres Vermilion County has owned in the Tilton area for more than 150 years.
A long-time farmer himself, Vermilion County Board Chairman Gary Weinard said his position is that the government doesn't need to be owning farmland that should be in the private sector, especially if the county can sell it at a good price and put the money away for future renovations to county buildings.
The county board's property committee will hear a presentation at its meeting Monday on how the county could go about selling the land. If the property committee votes to sell, it would go to the finance committee then on to the full county board. The property committee meets at 5 p.m. Monday on the third floor of the Vermilion County Courthouse Annex, 6 N. Vermilion St., Danville.
The land, which has 111.5 tillable acres, is in two pieces. One portion is south of the county's former Vermilion Manor Nursing Home, which the county sold to a private health care company earlier this year, and the rest is north of the nursing home on the north side of Catlin-Tilton Road.
Weinard said the farmland, which the county has owned since about 1862, supported the county poor farm, which evolved into the county-owned Vermilion Manor Nursing home. Weinard said crops and livestock were raised on the ground to provide the poor farm residents with food and a source of income for other necessities. He said it was a self-sustaining operation.
The county no longer has a need for the land, which Brian Neville with Farmer's National Co. of Danville, has managed for the county for more than 15 years.
The county pays Neville who has the land custom farmed. The county pays all the expenses and receives all the income from which the county pays Neville and the farmer, who is paid per task, meaning planting, harvesting and other necessary work.
Neville said the land generates about $50,000 a year for the county. And, according to Neville, a conservative estimate on the price per acre of farmland in that area of the county is $10,000 to $11,000. So, the county could get around $1.2 million for the land, according to that estimate but would eliminate that annual income.
Weinard said money from a sale could be put in the capital improvements fund, which cannot currently cover the list of county building repairs and renovations that are needed. The only other option to pay for such improvements, he said, would be a bond issue, which would cost taxpayers on an annual basis.
"At some point, some decisions need to be made," said Weinard, adding that the decision is whether to keep putting money into repairs and maintenance of some buildings that are aging, like the annex, or look at building something new or finding a newer building.
Weinard said four years ago that county farmland was worth about $3,000 to $4,000 an acre, and although there has been a good rise in value in the last few years, there are indications that prices may begin to decline soon.
"I'm not pushing (to sell), or hindering it. I'm just saying it's a good time to do it," Weinard said.