County Farm ownership still unknown

WOODSTOCK – The mystery of who owns the County Farm in Shenandoah County remains unsolved almost two years after the Alms House fire.

But county officials say they hope to hear soon from the Attorney General’s office as to the ownership of the County Farm property. The county oversaw the farm and the Alms House as its own property, even leasing part of the site for farming. The county sought an opinion from the Attorney General’s Office in the spring of 2014. County Administrator Mary T. Price gave no clear indication Friday that an opinion was forthcoming.

“I’d like to say that this should be resolved next week or next month but it just depends on how quickly the Commonwealth of Virginia moves on this,” Price said. “I just don’t know at this time. I haven’t received a timeframe.”

County staff discovered in 2014 that no evidence existed to show a deed recorded when the property was conveyed in the 1799 from the commonwealth to the county, Price noted in an email last week. Price said it was not known why it took so long to discover the discrepancy or how a deed failed to be recorded.

“The next step is to secure the deed and that’s what we’re working on,” Price said Friday.

The Board of Supervisors met in closed session Tuesday morning to hear from County Attorney Jason Ham regarding the status of the request for the opinion. Officials would not discuss the matter openly at that time given that it was a closed-session topic.

The Attorney General’s Office would not comment on the status of the opinion, Michael Kelly, director of communications for the agency, said Friday by email.

“Requests for opinions are considered attorney-client privileged communication,” Kelly’s email states. “The privilege is held by the requestor so our office can’t comment on them.”

A fire in April 2014 destroyed the historic Alms House, which had served as a shelter for poor people since the late 1700s. Months after the fire, the county collected a claim of about $676,000 from its insurance provider.

The question of ownership came before the Board of Supervisors in May 2014 about a month after the fire. Supervisors tried then to keep the discussion about the matter behind closed doors.

District 4 Supervisor Cindy Bailey argued that the board should discuss the matter in open session. She said in open session that no deed appeared to exist that would show the county owns the property. She added that the question also had arisen over whether or not the county could collect money from its insurance provider on the Alms House if the county couldn’t prove ownership. Eventually the board went into closed session to talk about the matter with then County Attorney J. Jay Litten along with other officials.

Back in open session, Bailey said the discussion had to do with ownership of the County Farm. Then Board Chairman David Ferguson confirmed that members talked about ownership of the property and that the county could not find a deed. Ferguson said the county would move forward and look at options to secure a legal deed of ownership.

Litten had apparently submitted a lengthy letter and documentation collected on the subject to the Attorney General’s Office. The county did not respond to a request for a copy of the letter.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com