A need for additional staff and a more taxpayer-friendly office to keep abreast of changing times has prompted the need for a larger facility, according to Lamar County Chief Appraiser Jerry Patton.
In the coming weeks, Lamar County Appraisal District will be asking the 11 jurisdictions it serves to approve the purchase of the downtown Peoples Bank Building at the corner of 1st Street SW and Grand Avenue, plus a parking lot to the west, at a cost of about $650,000.
Both Paris City Council and Chisum ISD board of trustees will discuss the purchase at meetings today with the proposal expected on upcoming agendas of the nine other jurisdictions this month. Three-fourths of the jurisdictions must approve the purchase price plus closing costs and agree to long-term financing.
On Friday, Patton talked about crowded conditions in a roughly 6,500-square-foot facility built in 1990 when the district had 11 full-time and one part-time employee, according to newspaper records. Today the staff has grown to 15 plus one part-time position, and Patton said he needs about a 10,000-square-foot facility. The five-story bank building consists of about 30,000 square feet.
“There’s about a 60% probability we could lease out two of the three floors,” Patton said, explaining the income would go a long way toward building payments. If the proposed purchase gains approval, the 11 jurisdictions would assume responsibility for a pro-rata share of a 20- to 30-year loan.
Patton said his need for additional staff comes from the district’s inability to appraise school districts on a yearly basis, rather than every two years, to more closely match appraisals performed yearly by the Texas Comptroller. Underappraisals present problems to schools, which receive funding based on state appraisals but collect taxes based on local appraisals.
“The district is going to have to make some changes because the comptroller kicked us out on our property value studies and said we are way too low,” Patton said. “It is a shot across our bow that we are going to have to start appraising this county every year to stay up, and I can’t do that in this building because it will take a couple more appraisers.”
Patton also expressed concerns about a growing need for taxpayer privacy when discussing property values.
“This building is more like a house than a commercial building and does not provide privacy,” the chief appraiser said. “Our appraisers are in one little room, and I have people constantly unhappy that they have to discuss their issues in an open room instead of going into an office with an appraiser. I don’t think you should have to come in here and air out your grievances without some privacy.”
Patton said he has performed due diligence.
“I have looked at buildings all over town and talked with three different building contractors who price a metal building with a sheetrock interior between $1.2 million and $1.4 million,” he said. “That’s just a barebones metal building and doesn’t include about $400,000 you are going to spend for a lot somewhere. The Peoples building is about one-third of what it would cost to build new.”
Patton said the bank building is structurally sound, built of concrete with a fairly new roof and an elevator that was revamped about 14 months ago. Because of a basement being below street level, Patton said there is minor seepage but no evidence of flooding.
“I have walked the building twice, spending about two hours each time and I see no evidence of foundation or structural problems,” Patton said.
Entities served by the appraisal district include the cities of Blossom, Deport, Paris, Reno, Roxton and Honey Grove along with Lamar County and school districts, Chisum, North Lamar, Paris, Prairiland and Paris Junior College.
On May 29, the appraisal district board voted 2-1 to submit the proposed purchase to it’s jurisdictions. Chairman Terry Christian, an officer with Peoples Bank, recused himself from the vote, and Kelly Jeffrey was absent. David Dunmon and Kenneth Kohls voted in favor and Keith Mitchell against.