Property purchase approved - 5 to 4
By Julie Whitmore
Despite a week of flurried e-mails, a petition drive and adverse public comment, directors of the Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District (BCRAGD) voted 5-4 on Thursday, August 27, to purchase property at 440 FM 3240 as a proposed new office space.
Voting against the purchase were directors Richard Connors, Don Kruckemeyer, Karen Ripley, and Lee Kneupper. In favor were James Chastain, Don Sloan, Jerry Sides, Andy Lautzenheiser and Gene Wehmeyer.
The purchase also was apparently approved without a required appraisal. Realtor Vicky Browning asserted at the meeting that she had requested and paid for the widely circulated appraisal by Jeanine Mansfield prior to the BCRAGD vote at its July 10 special meeting. Mansfield valued the property at $227,500.
“I purchased this appraisal,” Browning declared to the board. “Before you call me names, go buy your own.”
At the conclusion of the crowded meeting, however, BCRAGD President Jim Chastain told the Courier that the appraisal issue “did not come up” during the executive session and, therefore, “I’m assuming it’s over.” He said the contract called for the property closing to be within 15 days, and that it might be as early as Monday, August 31 - which did not happen.
On behalf of the Ranchers and Landowners Association (RLAT), Fidel Ramirez read a letter requesting a measured delay in the purchasing process. “With heavily considered reluctance,” RLAT said it was “greatly concerned with the expenditure of county taxpayers’ money, especially when it is related to the issue of the very precious water resources within our county.”
In addition to questions about the property’s location and value including cost-benefit analyses and title concerns, RLAT called for “scientific studies and evaluations applied to various areas within Bandera County for water resources, land, and brush management.”
Ramirez concluded, “We ask that the BCRAGD board advise its constituents as to what is being done to protect all landowners interests by taking the time to further evaluate your choices for coordinated water management policy.”
Mincing no words, attorney Cindy Payne told the board, “The analogy between this agency and the federal government is overwhelming. The federal government is moving forward like a freight train.” But, she warned, “This board is not 1,000 miles away from its constituents.”
Grassroots activist Karen Brown made a lengthy presentation encompassing oppositions she and nine others voiced to the Texas Appraiser Licensing and Certification Board in a petition mailed August 18. Brown also circulated an on-line petition that she said was signed by 100 concerned citizens.
Brown, who cited nearly two decades in residential construction in Nevada and Utah, as well as certification as a building inspector for the city of Las Vegas, called the value cited by Mansfield’s appraisal invalid because of a conflict of interest. Mansfield was purportedly under investigation by the BCRAGD on another matter.
Brown said there was predetermination of value of the property, and gross underestimation of the cost of renovating and maintaining the existing building on FM 3240. She estimated renovation and construction cost could run at least $220,000.
Brown also pointed out that the property is located in a platted subdivision with covenants restricting land use to residential only. The Wildwood subdivision was created in 1947, and has long been used by commercial establishments - which Brown contends were originally intended to serve the individual residents. Moving a public agency there is “akin to replacing a convenience store with a Walmart,” she declared.
“We live in a litigious society. Never underestimate the lure of easy money. It only takes one Wildwood subdivision property owner to realize the potential to mine the taxpayers by suing the district. That person may very well be sitting in this room today,” Brown said.
“To proceed with this deal is an indisputable failure of your fiduciary responsibilities as directors. It will be viewed as a violation of your oath to uphold the trust of the public funds which you control,” she concluded.
Additionally, realtor Gay Guillot told the group that 20 members of the board of directors of the Bandera County Board of Realtors have signed Brown’s petition.
In other business, the water board voted to lower the district’s property tax rate to .024 percent for fiscal year 2009-2010 from last year’s .02649 rate. Overall appraised value of property in the county has risen more than 8 percent since last year. If the board had levied the same tax rate, it would have faced possibility of a tax rollback lawsuit or petition for referendum, similar to the 2002 rollback citizens’ vote.