County Won't Use New Eminent Domain Power: Polk County (Bartow FL) Democrat, 8/26/05

Polk County commissioners have vowed not to use the power of eminent domain to condemn private property for economic development.

In a resolution sharply critical of a recent United States Supreme Court decision, the commission declared that "the power of eminent domain shall be used only to acquire private property for a public purpose."

Commissioner Paul Senft asked County Atty. Joseph Jarret to draw the resolution, which asserts that the county will not exercise the powers to take private property to sell it for private purposes.

In a controversial 5-to-4 decision, the court ruled in the case of Kelo vs. New London that the city of New London, Conn., could use its power of condemnation for that purpose.

Both houses of Congress quickly filed legislation to prohibit the use of federal funds in such cases.

In its resolution, the Polk County commission noted that historically, the power of eminent domain "has been reserved to the local, state and federal governments for the sole purpose of acquiring private property through the use of condemnation proceedings when said privately held properties are needed for public purposes."

It said the court's New London decision allows local governments "to take private property for a vaguely defined 'public good' such as economic development, or increased tax revenues to the local government itself."

It charged that the decision "put at risk the very right of private individuals to be free from government interference in their right to keep and enjoy their private property and . . . is contrary to and contravenes . . . Constitutional protections against such capricious and willful attacks by any governmental body upon the rights of the citizens."

It says the commission "deems any departure from the original principles of eminent domain to be an assault on our basic foundations of liberty and a threat to the rights of private property ownership."

It encouraged local governments in Florida to encourage the Legislature "to use all means necessary to strengthen the original purpose of the powers of eminent domain within the Constitution of the State of Florida."

Commissioners voted unanimously to adopt the resolution.

Senft noted that while it declares the commission's position in no uncertain terms, the policy could be changed by a future commission.

Eminent domain is used most frequently in Florida to acquire right-of-way for construction of new roads or widening of existing ones. It also can be used to acquire sites for new schools or other public facilities.

Polk County Democrat: www.polkcountydemocrat.com