PICHER - Residents within the Tar Creek Superfund site sent a message of dissatisfaction Tuesday as they issued accusations of “incompetence” and “favoritism” regarding the ongoing process of buying out properties there.
Members of the Lead Impacted Relocation Assistance Trust, however, are united in their belief that the process is fair.
Roseann Jones, owner of C.R. Mini Storage, walked away from Tuesday's meeting of the trust saying she will not back off of her demand for a new appraisal of her business.
Jones, like many residents who have been issued offers by the trust to purchase at-risk properties, is asking to see documentation explaining how appraisers arrived at their offer values.
The longtime Picher resident and business owner said she was not allowed to view the comparables used by Cinnabar Services in determining the value of her property and that she was “publicly insulted” when she questioned the trust about its offer to purchase her property. She said the offer is significantly low.
Trust chairman Larry Rice said the trust has continued to re-evaluate property appraisals and offers when residents raise valid questions, but that the trust relies on its contracted appraisal firm, Cinnabar Services, to provide the information that substantiates the appraisal values.
Dr. Mark Osborn, vice-chairman of the trust, said today that 95 percent of property owners who have received offers have accepted the proposals.
“When you have a 95-percent acceptance rate - that says to me that this is a successful program,” Osborn said. “Why would we rescind offers to satisfy the few who are unhappy? In a program like this there are going to be people who are not happy.”
Osborn said the trust board members are in agreement that the process is being handled correctly and within the trust guidelines.
“We are working very hard and doing everything we can to be fair to everyone,” Osborn said. “I understand that, when someone has put their whole life into a house, it can seem like (the offer) is not enough.”
Residents voicing concerns Tuesday asked the trust to consider firing the contractor and finding an appraiser who can maintain consistency.
Amy Cruzan, a homeowner whose offer fell short of her expectations, said she does not understand how her home - built by the same builder who built the home of trust member Janelle Trimble and has more square footage - can bring a lesser value than Trimble's.
Trimble has not yet closed on the sale of her property, therefore, the purchase value is not public record.
Amy Cruzan said her $133,000 appraisal is not enough to cover the value of her two-story home and does not touch the value of the land or the four-car garage and out building.
Cruzan's son, Greg Cruzan, told trust members “there is no way under the sun, in God's name, that you can call this a fair appraisal … I think you should should find a way to bring us fair appraisals or maybe we should all get together and hire and lawyer,” suggesting that a class-action lawsuit may be in order.
According to Osborn, appraisal values and offers are fair when compared to the last buyout.
Osborn said that, according to the trust's September figures, the average purchase offer for manufactured homes in the current buyout is $37.03 per square foot. It is $1 per square foot less than what was offered in 2005.
Frame homes are drawing more than $12 more per square foot than what was offered in 2005, according to Osborn.
In 2005, frame homes drew an average offer of $38.80 per square foot. The current average is $50.49.
Cruzan was also assisted Tuesday by the efforts of Sonya Harris, former manager of the relocation trust who resigned earlier this year.
“I want to know if the appraisal reviewer physically came to (Amy Cruzan's) house,” Harris said as she approached the trust on behalf of Cruzan.
Harris said that appraisers are pushing so hard to meet the demands of the project that they make errors when they sit down at the end of the day and attempt to document the appraisals.
“I think maybe they just don't remember what they have done when they sit down at the end of the day,” Harris said. “If you have a name like Janell Trimble or Sam Freeman, they may remember. But, for these other people … they may not.”
The end result, according to Harris and many Picher residents, is a “roller coaster” effect and inconsistent appraisal values that “make no sense” and create the basis for the accusations of “incompetence.”