Days after filing a civil suit against the Erath County Appraisal District (ECAD), its review board members and several other county taxing entities in the 266th Judicial District Court, owners of Fiddle Creek Steakhouse are sitting tight waiting for their day in court.
Local restaurateur Gale Warren filed the petition after receiving notice that ECAD appraised the personal property in the business, which includes inventory, furniture, fixtures and equipment, at $194,694.
Warren’s attorney Heath Allen said those items should be collectively appraised at $27,325.61 because they were used when Warren purchased them.
Chief Appraiser Jerry Lee said personal property items are appraised according to an ECAD schedule that considers the age of the item and the original value. The appraiser can use a couple different methods to arrive at the final appraisal value.
One method is for the business owner to supply an itemized list that appraisers then check against a depreciation schedule to determine the remaining value of an item. For example, a computer that was brand new in 2006 is worth five percent of its original value for 2009 tax purposes. But different items have different “life spans,” so each item must be considered separately.
If an itemized list is not provided, the appraiser determines the value using a square footage method.
Using this method, the appraiser evaluates the quality of the inventory based on the type of restaurant (fast food, theme, etc.) and determines a per square foot value. Then, furniture, fixtures and equipment are evaluated in the same manner. Each number is then multiplied by the square footage of the restaurant to determine the base appraisal. Deductions are made according to an ECAD schedule based on the age of the facility. Certain amenities, such as liquor service, could also add a higher value per square foot.
Lee said the square footage method is not an exact science, but he strives to be as equitable to all businesses as he can.
Warren protested Fiddle Creek’s appraisal once before in 2008 and was given a 10 percent reduction. After protesting the appraisal again this year, he decided to inventory the personal property and requested a hearing with the review board.
After the hearing, Warren received notice that the appraisal had been reduced to $177,790, restoring the 10 percent reduction the board granted Warren in 2008, but still approximately $150,000 over what he had presented to the board.
That’s when he decided to take the matter to court.
The suit lists ECAD, Erath County appraisal review board, Erath County, city of Stephenville, Stephenville Independent School District, Middle Trinity Groundwater Conservation District, along with individuals Jerry Lee, Leonard Moncrief, A.C. Martin, Dottie Corbin, Gary Key and Joanie Peterson.
The Stephenville City Council discussed the case during an executive session Tuesday night but took no action when they reconvened in open session.
Allen said he has not been contacted by the city and the process can sometimes move slowly.
“I have not heard anything, but I also didn’t expect to,” Allen said. “When a suit is filed in district court, you have 20 days to answer.”
Allen wasn’t sure if all individuals named in the suit had been served, but said at least some have been served in the last week. Then the discovery process gets under way before both sides appear in court for pretrial hearings.
“But that could be six months down the road,” Allen said.
If the case does go to court, Allen said it could be a year before a jury gets to decide the outcome.