EL RENO — A clerical error allowed a county-owned plot of land that houses a volunteer fire department to be sold for $100, possibly jeopardizing the future of the department’s headquarters.
In April, land that houses the Cedar Lake Fire Department was accidentally put up for sale as a tax delinquent property, said District 2 Canadian County Commissioner David Anderson.
“My position is that we made a mistake, we’re human beings, and we make mistakes, and we want to take whatever legal steps we can to retain ownership and continue its use as a fire station,” Anderson said.
The land was bought by a man named Howie Sutton, a maintenance employee who works in the same building as the Canadian County commissioner’s office.
Canadian County records show Sutton has bought several Cedar Lake properties in the past two years for prices ranging from $2,000 to $16,000.
No other bids were placed on the property, and Sutton was able to purchase it for $100 in May, Anderson said. He said Sutton has hired an attorney and plans to fight any legal attempts to reclaim the land for the fire department.
A reporter for The Oklahoman tried to speak with Sutton at his place of employment, but he declined to comment.
According to the deed, when the Western Sportsman Club — a part of Cedar Lake community — donated the lot for the fire department it also created a stipulation giving them the option to buy back the land if it were to ever be sold by Canadian County.
The Western Sportsman Club was never given the option to buy back the land, and the sale of the lot is not legal, Assistant District Attorney Paul Hesse asserted in a petition filed Tuesday. The filing also noted since the property was county-owned it could not have been auctioned for tax delinquency.
Hesse is asking the District Court of Canadian County to return the title to the fire department.
‘So many different hats’
It’s easy to hear the pride in Randy Gispon’s voice when he describes the scope of what the Cedar Lake Volunteer Fire Department does for the people within its 250 miles range of operation.
“We’re not just a fire department, we’re a rescue squad,” Gipson said.
Their department of around 30 volunteer fire fighters responds to hundreds of fires and medical calls per year and offers classes on CPR and severe weather and also trains first responders, said Gipson.
His wife and assistant fire chief, Judy Gipson, said the fire fighters also volunteer their time and expertise fixing up the building and maintaining the fire trucks, which were literally pieced together from multiple vehicles.
“We all wear so many different hats it’s incredible,” Judy Gipson said.
Gipson said he was dissapointed to hear the land was not going to be immediately returned to the department. He said if Sutton is allowed to keep the property they will have to relocate.
Gipson scratched his head at the thought of someone purchasing several plots of land nearby and then rooting out the local fire department, not only increasing property taxes but also lowering safety.
“Why in the world would he want to get rid of the fire department that is going to protect his land?”