Facing an uphill battle to gain approval for the purchase of Peoples National Bank in downtown Paris, Lamar County Appraisal District’s chief appraiser may have to look elsewhere to provide the space he said the district needs to perform its work or else the state comptroller will step in.
The district’s 11 taxing entities in Lamar County, plus the city of Honey Grove in Fannin County, are expected to vote within the coming weeks on the proposed purchase of the bank building at the corner of 1st Street SW and Grand Avenue at a total cost of roughly $650,000.
If four of the 12 districts vote against the proposal, the appraisal district will be forced to look elsewhere, or add on to its existing building at 620 Bonham St., an already crowded lot. So far, two entities, the Paris City Council and Chisum ISD Board of Trustees, have turned down the request. Reno City Council approved it.
Chief Appraiser Jerry Patton said a 10,000-square-foot building is needed to provide room for two additional appraisers necessary to evaluate Lamar County school districts yearly rather than every other year as is currently the case. The district now employs three appraisers and a supervisor, all housed in one room.
“We are going to have to evaluate these districts every year to come within a required 10% variance of state comptroller values or run the risk of the state doing evaluations for us,” Patton said, explaining it’s going to take additional appraisers to do the work.
Working without the extra appraisers these past few years has put the district in the crosshairs of the state comptroller’s office, which is telling Patton that local valuations are not where they should be. When local values fall below comptroller values, school districts lose money. The state funds schools based on comptroller values, but schools collect taxes based on local values. Patton said at least two local school districts are in that situation this year, and the other two districts are right on the edge.
If the proposed purchase fails, the chief appraiser said, he will look for property either for sale or lease elsewhere. However, Patton said buying property and building from scratch would cost about $2 million while leasing 10,000 square foot at the going rate of $4 to $5 a square foot would cost as much as the estimated $48,000 yearly payment on the bank building.
About a suggestion to buy a lot east of the Bonham Street location, Patton said he is not aware of it being for sale, although he said he has heard through the grapevine both the lot to the east, which houses an apartment building, and to the west, which includes a two-story residence, are owned by the same family.
If push comes to shove, the appraiser said he would price an addition to the Bonham Street facility.
Instead of a 6,500-square-foot building as previously reported by The Paris News, based on 1989-90 reports when the facility was built, Patton said the current facility is 5,155 square foot. Looking at a building sketch, the appraiser said if he squared off the building with a set back in the rear, he could get 8,100 square foot. However, he thinks a smaller addition of about 7,800 square feet would be all the city would approve.
“New house construction is running at least $120 a square foot with commercial construction coming in higher because you have more codes to meet,” Patton said, adding an additional 2,700 square feet would cost in excess of $350,000 and conditions would still be crowded.
“I want to provide enough room so that future chief appraisers don’t have to worry about running out of space,” Patton said. “My main concerns are I have to have more room, and I have to give the taxpayer privacy.”
The chief appraiser said he gets complaints every year about customers having to “go back there in that small room and air out their private business with everybody hearing everybody.”
“Right now they have no place to go because it is necessary to have their computers with them when talking with customers about the appraised values of their properties,” Patton said. “In the times we are in, somebody down the road is going to file a complaint with the attorney general that their right to privacy has been violated. I am trying to head that off.”