|Trinity Standard - Local News
Copyright 2011 - Polk County Publishing Company
Purchase of county annex put on hold
Trinity Standard -
GROVETON – A plan to purchase the Trinity County Courthouse Annex buildings in Groveton was put on hold Monday when county commissioners decided more study was needed. The commissioners indicated they feel the county must have more permanent office space, but said more time is needed to study their options. During their meeting Monday, the plan on the table for discussion was for a lease-purchase of the five buildings located on Front Street (Highway 287). These are the buildings that were used to house county offices during the two-year renovation of the courthouse. County Judge Doug Page has been negotiating with the building’s owner, Jonathan Thornberry, over the possible purchase of the buildings. For more than 2 1/2 years, the county has rented the buildings at a cost of $8,238 per month. When the courthouse restoration was completed this past summer, the county moved most of the offices back into the courthouse. However, there was not enough space for all departments and the county clerk and county tax assessor-collector’s offices remained in the annex. In addition, the veteran’s service officer and the emergency management coordinator also continue to be housed in the rented space. While the courthouse was put back in service in late August, problems with acoustics in the second-floor district courtroom have prevented that space from being used. Trials and court hearings continue to be scheduled in the annex’s courtroom. Large rugs have been ordered for the courtroom which, when installed, are expected to eliminate echoes. Lease-purchase agreement Under a deal negotiated by Page and Thornberry, the county was given the option of purchasing the annex buildings for a cost of $700,000. Thornberry agreed to a lease-purchase arrangement at 6.25 percent interest. The county’s monthly payments would drop to $6,004 and the buildings would be paid off by December 2026. However, during Monday’s meeting, County Attorney Joe W. Bell told commissioners that the Texas Attorney General’s office has ruled state law will not allow counties to obtain real estate through a lease-purchase agreement. He told commissioners their only options for obtaining the $700,000 to buy the property is either through a voter-approved bond issue or a commissioners court-approved certificates of obligation. Pct. 1 Commissioner Grover “Tiger” Worsham noted that under either of those options, the county would probably get a interest rate lower than the 6.25 percent offered on the lease purchase. During the discussion, Jerry Coma, a resident of the Sebastopol area in Precinct 1, also charged that the lease-purchase agreement was “bad for the county and bad for the taxpayers.” It was noted that the annex buildings had been appraised this past summer for $500,000 and Coma asked “why has the price been jacked up to $700,000.” Pct. 2 Commissioner Rich Chamberlin noted that Thornberry had originally asked for over $1 million for the buildings and rather than “jacking up” the price, Page had negotiated to reduce the amount. “We need a better deal that will benefit taxpayers and not Mr. Thornberry,” Coma said, adding that commissioners need to “sharpen their pencils.” Coma also asked commissioners to consider other costs that would be encountered, such as maintenance and utilities as well as the loss of tax revenue currently collected on the annex property. The annex property includes five old buildings that were completely renovated by Thornberry for the county to use. While each of the buildings share common walls, they have separate entrances along Front Street. A common hallway along the rear of the buildings ties them together. Commissioners agreed that more study was needed before a final decision could be reached. That study also would include a possibility raised by Worsham that the county build its own building. He said that was a lot available for such a building near the current courthouse. “There is no question that we have to have more space and this is one option we can look at,” Worsham said. “If we did build there, we’d have enough room for the clerk, tax office, veterans service office and emergency management office. We wouldn’t have room for a courtroom, but hopefully we can get the problem with the one over here (in the courthouse) solved.” “I spoke with Mr. Gartner (the project architect) and he said the carpet was on the way. He hopes it would be a Christmas present for us,” indicating the rugs were expected around the end of December. Other action During Monday’s meeting, commissioners also: • Voted to join the Regional Capital Punishment Public Defender’s Office. Under a state grant, the cost of membership is free for the first year but will rise to a maximum of $7,519 per year after the fifth year. The office was originally created in the Lubbock area as a means to help control the rising cost of death penalty murder trials. Jack Stoffregen of the public defender’s office said the rising cost of a death penalty cases could bankrupt small counties that have to pay the cost of both the prosecution and defense. What began as a regional office is now spreading throughout Texas under additional state grants. Defendants in death penalty cases are provided with the mandated two attorneys, investigator and other support personnel at no cost to the county • Approved new plat maps from both the Trinity Plantation and Woodland Ranch developments located south of Trinity. Under the new maps, developers have combined small lots into larger tracts. • Held a public hearing on continuing to tax goods in-transit. Due to changes in the state tax code, local governments had to conduct a hearing and approve plans to continue taxing the property by Dec. 1 or it would be permanently exempt. Following the hearing, commissioners voted to continue to tax goods in-transit. • Accepted the donation of a shadow box display honoring the late Sheriff Brent Lee, who was killed in a in a 2008 traffic accident while responding to a call near Trinity. Former Deputy Sheriff Donald Fisher made the presentation and asked that the display be placed in the courthouse. Commissioners indicated they are willing to hang it in the building, but would have to first seek approval from the Texas Historical Commission, which just funded 80 percent of the cost of the $5.4 million courthouse renovation.