PSU files petition for eminent domain: Pittsburgh (KS) Morning Sun, 3/3/05

By Jessica Tims

Pittsburg State University has filed a petition for eminent domain to acquire the last piece of property it needs to construct a new student health center on south Broadway.

Negotiation between the university and JD and Irene Ransom of Joplin, Mo., the owners of the property at 1803 S. Broadway, have been back and forth since January 2004. Because the negotiations have been going on for more than a year and the parties are still in a deadlock, the Kansas Board of Regents has given the university the authority to use eminent domain to acquire the property. The school filed the petition on Friday.

"This is something we would only do when we need the property and negotiations become futile," said PSU Attorney Darron Farha. "That's what's happened here. These negotiations between us and the Ransoms have not been about their unwillingness to sell the property, it's been about the price of the property."

Standing in the way of the negotiations is state statue KSA 76-147. That law states regents institutions must get two appraisals before purchasing real estate and that the institution is prohibited from paying more than the amount of the highest appraisal.

On April 2, PSU Director of Purchasing Jim Hughes and the Ransoms met at the property with two appraisers - Chuck Hosman and Bob Langford. According to the university, it chose Hosman and the Ransoms chose Langford. However JD Ransom said it wasn't that cut and dry. He said he picked Langford off a list provided to him by the university.

"They threw out some names," Ransom said. "I am from Missouri, so I just picked one out. I am paying for the next one myself."

Hosman appraised the property at $53,000 and Langford appraised the property at $56,500 - the Crawford County Appraiser's Office lists the property value at $44,500.

On May 17, John Patterson, vice president of administration and finance for PSU, sent a letter to the Ransoms formally offering them $56,500 for the property. On June 14, JD Ransom asked for $100,000.

"When they first approached me, that's what I told them because I didn't want to sell it because it's part of my (retirement) portfolio," Ransom said. "I threw out that figure just to get them off my back because I didn't want to sell it. I didn't think they would come in and use the law to take it."

Because of the state statute, the university could not pay more than $56,500 for the property. So in a letter dated Dec. 15, 2004 Farha informed the couple again that the state law would not allow the university to purchase the real estate for more than the highest appraised value. Farha told the couple the university would keep the offer of $56,500 open until Jan. 31, 2005. In the letter Farha also made the Ransoms aware that the university could use eminent domain to obtain the land.

At that time the Kansas Board of Regent was holding a meeting, and on Dec. 15 and 16 the regents gave the university the authority to use eminent domain. Soon after Farha said he spoke with JD Ransom and Ransom said he would have a new appraisal when the two men met again on Jan. 26.

At that meeting Ransom did not have another appraisal. Ransom said he tried to hire an appraiser, but the man he was dealing with did not want to become entangled in an eminent domain battle.

At that meeting Ransom told Farha $67,000 was the lowest he and his wife would go. Farha said he told Ransom the most the university could offer was the $56,500, plus some reasonable appreciation since the appraisal had been done nearly a year before. In an e-mail on Feb. 4, Farha offered to have two more appraisals of the property done. But Ransom said he wants to hire his own appraiser. He said he has already found a new appraiser who is licensed in Kansas that is willing reappraise the property and get involved with the eminent domain proceedings. Ransom will pay for that appraisal himself.

On Feb. 15, Ransom wrote a letter to the Kansas Board of Regents offering them his lowest price of $65,000 for the property. But, again because of KSA 76-147, the board declined the offer.

On Friday, Pittsburg State filed the paper work to acquire the land.

There is still not a timeline for when the new health center will be constructed, however the university would like to have the last piece of land now so that it can use the land for additional parking until construction starts.

The university has already acquired three other properties from two other landowners in the area that will be the new student health center. According to Hughes, the university was approached by those property owners to purchase their land.

"We very seldom go out and ask somebody to sell us a piece of property," Hughes said. "It is generally somebody coming to us to ask if we want a piece of property."

A consideration hearing will be held at 9:30 a.m. on March 31 at the Crawford County Judicial Center in Pittsburg. At that hearing a judge will decide whether or not PSU has the right to acquire the property using eminent domain. If it is determined the school does have that right, three appraisers will be appointed to value the property.

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