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A Small Florida Town Accidentally Sold Its Water Tower For $55,000

The Brooksville water tower was accidentally sold by the city to a businessman who was trying to buy a municipal building at the tower's base.
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The Brooksville water tower was accidentally sold by the city to a businessman who was trying to buy a municipal building at the tower's base.

When business owner Bobby Read approached the Brooksville City Council about purchasing a municipal building at the base of the small Florida city's water tower, he didn't expect the water tower to come with it.

Read discovered the mistake after the property had been sold to him for $55,000. The certified personal trainer intended to turn the building, which various city departments used for storage, into a personal training studio named Downtown Athletics. But when he went to the county property appraiser's office to get an address for his new business, the county told him he'd received much more than the building — several thousand gallons more.

"I immediately went through the necessary steps to deed the water tower back to the city of Brooksville," Read said in an email to NPR. "The city's intention was to sell me a split section of the parcel with a small garage."

The surprise purchase boiled down to a mix-up over the legal description for the property. Mark Kutney, the Brooksville city manager, says the building Read wanted to buy was never split off from the parent property where the water tower is based, even though city leaders were aware it was supposed to be. City code allows properties to be split one time from their parent parcel, Kutney said.

Kutney says he directed his staff to provide the city attorney with a legal description that separated the parcel. But the description that went to the attorney was still for the full property.

"If there was any error, it was on my part," Kutney said. "I should have looked at it more closely, because that's where we dropped the ball."

While Read officially owned the water tower for a little over a week, he never had keys or access to the property. A small fee of $10 was all it took to sign the property back to the city, and Kutney said the city maintains an "outstanding" relationship with the businessman as he starts renovating the building for his new gym.

For now, Brooksville mayor Pat Brayton confirmed that the city is out of troubled waters.

"The mistake happened, but you know, when the mistake happens, you just correct it and you carry on," he said.

Josie Fischels is an intern on NPR's News Desk.

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