School sys­tem de­fends land pur­chase

The Covington News - - Front page - By Am­ber Pittman apittman@cov­news.com

In the wake of much pub­lic scru­tiny, the Newton County School Sys­tem is de­fend­ing its de­ci­sion to buy 117.77 acres off Crow­ell Road to build a re­place­ment school for Newton High.

Some have ques­tioned the $2,276,000 price paid for the lot, while oth­ers won­dered whether the prop­erty was in the fam­ily of for­mer school board of­fi­cials.

The site was val­ued at $1,874,700 for the 2010 tax year, ac­cord­ing to the Newton County Tax As­ses­sor’s of­fice, but the tax as­sess­ment value and an ap­praisal for mar­ket value are dif­fer­ent.

“The tax as­sess­ment value and a pro­fes­sion­ally done ap­praisal re­lated to mar­ket value and are dif­fer­ent and it is mar­ket value that drives pur­chase,” said Su­per­in­ten­dent Gary Mathews, who cited board coun­sel Kent Camp­bell.

The mar­ket value for the prop­erty as of April 21, 2010, was an es­ti­mated $2,276,600, right at the pur­chase price, ac­cord­ing to an ap­praisal let­ter from Paige Alexan­der of Alexan­der Ap­praisals. Alexan­der did a com­plete anal­y­sis of the prop­erty, which is lo­cated along Crow­ell and Jack Neely roads on land lots 164 and 165 in the 10th land district of the county.

Mathews also said that the land was not pur­chased from the fam­ily of for­mer board mem­ber Cathy Dobbs, as was ru­mored, and had not been owed by any mem­ber of the Dobbs fam­ily since 1998. The land was pre­vi­ously owned by J.D. Wy­att Farm and Burnt Pine Part­ners LLC from 1998 to Oc­to­ber 2010 when the land was pur­chased by First State Bank of North­west Arkansas, the en­tity from whom the board pur­chased the land. The land also has wa­ter and sewer ser­vice and two en­trances.

The site was pur­chased with cap­i­tal project funds, which can be used for build­ing but not for things such as salaries or books. Those

funds will be com­bined with Spe­cial Lo­cal Op­tion Sales Tax money to build the school, which is ex­pected to open in 2013.

The state re­quires that a prop­erty be at least 100 acres in or­der to build a high school. The new school will have room for 2,500 stu­dents. There will also be room on the prop­erty for ball fields and prac­tice fields.

“ From my ob­ser­va­tion of the pro­ceed­ings, the board au­tho­rized its at­tor­ney to com­mit due dili­gence re­gard­ing this land pur­chase,” said Mathews in an e-mail. “ He did so in­clud­ing se­cur­ing the ser­vices of a pro­fes­sional ap­praiser ( Alexan­der Ap­praisals) who val­i­dated the pur­chase price ul­ti­mately paid by the BOE. Im­por­tantly, as the record will show, the bank bid al­most $ 45,000 more at the fore­clo­sure sale based on their own ap­praisal at the time,” he said. “ The whole no­tion of un­der­handed, in this case, is echoed by a few who do not un­der­stand what has tran­spired to date, es­pe­cially who owned what land when and the dif­fer­ence be­tween Newton County Tax As­sess­ment Value and a pro­fes­sion­ally done ap­praisal re­lated to mar­ket value.”

See Cov­news. com for a let­ter to the school board from the prop­erty ap­praiser.

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