Editor's Note: Sarah Palin’s biggest project as a small town mayor left tax payers holding a massive bill for a sports complex. We go inside her legacy in Wasilla, Alaska. Watch Randi Kaye's report tonight on AC360 10p ET.
Supporters call it Sarah Palin’s “crowning achievement.” Her “lasting legacy.”
I’m talking about the Wasilla Sports Complex, a $15 million project that then-Mayor Sarah Palin pushed through.
Did I mention it has an indoor soccer field and the seats for the hockey arena are heated??
Palin asked residents to approve a 25 percent sales tax increase to pay for the $14.7 million dollar bond needed to build it which they did approve by a margin of just 20 votes.
But the project ended up costing the city millions of dollars because of missteps taken by the town.
The problem was Wasilla started building on the land before it actually owned the title to the land.
You see, the Nature Conservancy was negotiating to sell the land to Wasilla or to a businessman named Gary Lundgren in 1999.
The town hadn’t signed the purchase agreement for all the land it thought it owned, but Lundgren had.
Federal court handed the land to Lungdren saying the town hadn’t filed the proper papers. By then, though, Sarah Palin had already given the go-ahead to break ground.
After Palin left office, Mayor Diane Keller sued again and this time cut a deal with the businessman.
They settled for, get this, more than $800,000 plus another $700,000 in Lundgren’s legal fees and interest on the land.
Records show the town’s original offer on the land was just $145,000. By the time they settled and paid all those fees, it cost Wasilla more than $1.5 million and that doesn’t include the town’s own legal costs.
Plus, Lundgren told us he had offered at least twice to give the land in question to the town – free of charge! - if it would only stop the litigation. The town’s lawyer says he doesn’t recall an acceptable offer from Lundgren, but Lundgren says the town turned it down because it wanted more than the 20 acres he was offering so they could build a softball field and expand.
Wasilla City Council Member, Diane Woodruff, told me regarding Palin, “she inherited the city with no debt and suddenly we have a lot of debt. I don't think that labels her as a true fiscal conservative.”
But the current mayor says the complex has brought in millions of dollars for area businesses and it was a dream for the community, not just Sarah Palin.
Sound like a dream to you?
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