Value is in eye of buyer; still needs price tags

Published 12:53 am Sunday, April 19, 2009

Like beauty, value may be in the “eye of the beholder” but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t include a price tag — especially when you are talking about spending someone else’s money.

That concept is at the heart of a recent public debate that has shown a gaping flaw in Ohio law.

Much focus has been on Lawrence County’s plans to buy the Mended Reeds building on State Route 93 to relocate the youth from the Dennis J. Boll Group and Shelter Home.

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The debate has centered on points that include if there were better locations, how the deal came about and if the $800,000 price tag is too high.

But all those are arguments for another time and place.

Along the way, many were shocked to see that the county didn’t get the building appraised before agreeing to the purchase.

The county did assess it, have an architect look it over and make some basic calculations from what was owed and what was invested.

While it was somewhat shocking the county didn’t get the property appraised — a situation that will thankfully be corrected next week — I was completely dumfounded by the fact that the county had a choice in this matter.

Nowhere in the Ohio Revised Code does it say that government bodies are required to have property it plans to purchase appraised.

Say what?

I dare say that no one would buy a house without getting it appraised or buy a car without looking up its Blue Book value. So why in the world would elected officials be allowed to spend tax dollars on something so large without getting an appraisal?

This is something our leaders in Columbus should address immediately because it leaves the door open for massive abuse.

What would stop a government body from deciding that Joe Smith’s property was worth $1 million just because Joe may be a big player in local politics? While people may cry foul, there wouldn’t be any hard and fast evidence to the contrary.

Let’s be clear, I don’t think that is the case here. The property and building will likely appraise for more than the $800,000 the county is paying.

But the concern is real.

The other thing to consider is that more than just an appraisal can determine fair market value. An item is only worth as much as someone is willing to pay and something that is worthless to one person may have great value to someone else.

If the state implemented an appraisal law, it shouldn’t prevent government agencies from being able to pay more than that amount, but it would at least give the taxpayers a measuring stick on which to hold elected officials accountable.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at