Northland taxpayers question land deal between ambulance service and its own board president

PLATTE CITY, Missouri - A controversial land deal to an ambulance district that serves Platte and Clay counties is raising concern amongst some taxpayers in the Northland.

Some taxpayers believe the Northland Regional Ambulance Service (NRAD) is purchasing land from its very own board president at an inflated price.

Elected leaders maintain it is a fair, legitimate transaction, but others are calling it an “inside deal.”

The land in question is located just west of I-29, at the Camden Point exit. NRAD purchased three acres to build a new station. The district encompasses over 340 square miles in Platte and Clay counties, north of the Kansas City metropolitan area.

The land was previously owned by Kevin Rawlings, NRAD’s board president, who sold the three acres for $175,000 (nearly $60,000 per acre).

Taxpayers and real estate experts told NBC Action News that price is far more than the land is worth.

Rawlings would not do an on-camera interview, but told NBC Action News via phone that it is a fair price. Rawlings added that he is doing $30,000 of grading work at his own expense.

NRAD executive director Tom Taylor also refused an on-camera interview, but said the district started searching for land about two years ago and he “fell in love” with the location near the Camden Point exit.

“He (Rawlings) never approached us about the land,” said Taylor.

Documents obtained by NBC Action News provide a timeline.

In April of 2010, Rawlings bought the 34-acre property. The Platte County Assessor’s web site appraises the agricultural land at a little more than $17,438, a figure typically below market value.

In December, NRAD published a request for bids in the local newspapers, asking for “at least 2 acres, fronting blacktop, within 2,200 feet of I-29 at exit 25, zoned for the use intended, with grading finished to near its intended use.”

The ad did not have a deadline. However, by January 17, the parties had already approved and signed the purchase agreement. Rawlings abstained from the board vote.

In February, the Bank of Weston came to the table with land located on the opposite side of I-29, near the southeast corner of the interchange. Bank president Ted Wilson said he offered 3.5 acres for $100,000.

But he received a February 17 email from Taylor saying, “Unfortunately, we have a contract on a suitable property that meets the needs of the district.”

“By the time I heard about it, they’d already signed the deal,” Wilson said.

NRAD never did an appraisal on the land and Rawlings would not disclose how much he purchased it for in 2010.

But NBC Action News tracked down the previous owner, John Calovich Jr., at his home in Overland Park. He said Rawlings bought the entire 34-acre property for $130,000.

“He was telling me that was overpriced,” Calovich said. “I feel like I’ve been totally set up. I think this whole thing was a set up. I’m going to get my attorneys involved to see what’s transpired.”

Taxpayers are also turning up the heat. Several letters to the editor in The Landmark have questioned the cost.

In a recent column, Landmark publisher Ivan Foley wrote, “The NRAD board deserves all the criticism it is getting for this careless and questionable use of tax dollars.”

People like Platte County resident Clint Rhodes say it is time for someone to be held accountable.

“I think it’s crooked,” Rhodes said. “I’d like to see Kevin Rawlings resign from the board and give the taxpayers back their money.”

NRAD closed on the property in early March. The next board meeting is scheduled for Monday night at district headquarters, 1000 Platte Falls Road in Platte City.

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