Before another packed house last Thursday night, the Hempstead County Quorum Court approved a proposed counter offer for the downtown Hope Farmer's Bank Building for $1.5 million in cash with an estimated closing date of December 2018.
Before another packed house last Thursday night, the Hempstead County Quorum Court approved a proposed counter offer for the downtown Hope Farmer’s Bank Building for $1.5 million in cash with an estimated closing date of December 2018.
The template for the new proposed deal, which has still being formally drawn up at press time, was similar to the one laid out by Justice Ed Darling in an open letter to the Hope Star a week ago. Darling has emerged as the point man and liaison with Farmer’s Bank since the August Quorum Court meeting. A copy of Darling's letter appears online with this story.
In the newest twist on the purchase, the Quorum Court authorized a Little Rock real estate attorney to draw up a formal counter offer proposal, and then, move forward with the real estate transaction to purchase the building. The attorney involved was not known at the Hope Star’s press time, nor the status of the proposal.
Darling’s proposal passed the Quorum Court by a 10-1 vote as did subsequent motions to engage the Little Rock real estate attorney and rescind the Quorum Court’s original motion on the purchase.
Justice Lynn Montgomery was the lone holdout on all three votes.
“In my mind, they broke the deal by changing the terms of the agreement,” he said.
Montgomery also noted that the actual assessed value of the Farmer’s Bank Building, based on records at the Hempstead County Assessor’s office, was $2.8 million.
In speaking on the matter, Darling said “There is plenty of room to point fingers and assign blame for this situation, but the question now, is how to move forward. Farmer's Bank and Trust is still offering to sell the county a $4.6 million building for 1.5 million dollars. That to me is still a $3 million gift, and we should find a path to make this work.”
Darling also said “This Farmer’s Bank purchase has been anticipated, and we are already seeing new interest in downtown Hope with building repair and investment.”
Justice Jessie Henry called for a special meeting of a special committee, but Justice David Clayton said, “If we are going to do it, I think we need to settle this right here, right now. I’ve had enough of this crap.”
Montgomery said that he would agree to the original proposal, which was $1.5 million at no interest to be paid off in five years.
“They need to stand for what they said they were going to do,” he said.
With Montgomery receiving no response, Darling said “I think we engage in a simple real estate transaction to purchase the building at $1.5 million to close on December 2018.”
“And, at closing the first of December, they will have 30 days to move out,” he said.
At that point, the Justices briefly debated how to put Darling’s proposal into a motion before an amended motion was proposed to engage a real estate attorney to draw up a purchase agreement with the price and sale stipulations.
That motion, and a subsequent motion by Clayton to pay for the attorney, was passed 10-1.
In a peripheral matter to the purchase, the Justices also heard a response from County Treasurer Judy Flowers regarding the transfer of $1.7 million in county funds from Farmer’s Bank to another institution, later identified as First National Bank of Tom Bean, as the county’s deal to purchase the Farmer’s Bank Building was still pending.
Flowers pointed out that a resolution passed in February’s Quorum Court meeting authorized her to take the money leftover from the Hempstead Hall Bond fund and move it to a new fund called Capital Improvement/Courthouse Fund.
Flowers said it was her responsibility to taxpayers to get the highest rate of return for the money, and she said she found a higher interest rate of return at First National Bank of Tom Bean.
“It was drawing .85-percent at Farmer’s Bank and it was moved to a bank with the rate of 1.6-percent, the highest rate to be found at that time,” Flowers said as she presented a financial packet with full disclosure of the transaction.
Flowers also said Hempstead County presently had a healthy balance $14,840,867 combined in its 29 separate county revenue accounts.