People who don’t live in Idaho should pay more for state leases for cabin sites and float homes, Idaho Attorney General Al Lance said Tuesday.
Lance’s comments came as the state Land Board agreed to smaller rent increases than it had earlier endorsed for cabin sites for the coming year. It also agreed to study lowering a proposed $1,000-a-year fee for float homes on state-owned waters.
Idaho residents pay taxes to support the state Department of Lands, which oversees leases of both cabin sites and lake space, Lance said. That means people from other states are being subsidized if they get the same deal on leases as residents.
“Out-of-staters should pay (more), just as a matter of equity,” Lance said.
Chuck Lempesis, attorney for the Priest Lake State Lessees Association, said Lance’s comments were the first his group has heard on the subject, and the group would like a chance to respond.
Many of those who own cabins on state leased land at Priest Lake are from Spokane. People from Washington and other states also are among those who have float homes tied up on Lake Pend Oreille and elsewhere in North Idaho.
Lance said Idaho charges four times as much in tuition at the University of Idaho for students who come from out of state, and hunting licenses for non-Idaho residents cost nearly 14 times as much.
He said he plans to research how much Idaho taxpayers spend to subsidize the Department of Lands, both directly and indirectly, and use those figures to propose a non-resident premium for leases.
State Controller J.D. Williams said Lance had “an excellent point.”
“If it can be done, I think it should be looked at very seriously,” Williams said.
The board already had voted to set lease rates for state-owned cabin sites at a compromise level: 2.5 percent of 1992 assessed value, or 25 percent above this year’s rents, whichever is greater.
That compromise came after the state had proposed setting 1998 rents at 2.5 percent of current assessed values, but cabin owners had complained that values have been set unrealistically high and they’ve been given no chance to appeal. Many faced increases of 150 percent or more.
The Land Board agreed to continue studying how the values of state leased cottage sites are set and how they can be appealed.
“Most folks will accept the 2.5 percent, because they recognize that we have to get market returns,” Williams said.
Said Gov. Phil Batt, “It’s the appraisal they’re arguing about, and I think they have some point.”
A subcommittee of the Land Board that met with cabin owners and their representatives came up with the compromise. At Lempesis’ suggestion, 1992 values were used because that was the last year cabin owners and the state agreed about the value of the land.
Idaho is required by the state constitution to manage state lands for the maximum long-term return to the state endowment fund, which benefits public schools. That’s why the state has tried to raise rents on cabin sites to what it considers market rates.
But the huge increases that requires have generated fears among cabin owners that they’ll lose modest cabins that in some cases have been in the same families for generations.
“We are not out of line by asking 2.5 percent of fair market value for these properties,” Batt said. “To back away on that I think would be wrong.”
Lempesis said the question that must be addressed is how fair market value is determined for a rented cabin site, on which the renter builds his or her own cabin.
On the float home issue, Land Board members seemed sympathetic to float home owners who said the state’s proposed $1,000-a-year fee for the privilege of floating on state waters was too high.
“We are not to be confused with lavish float homes in Seattle, Sausalito or downtown Portland,” Lew Wilson, president of the Floating Homes Association, told the Land Board.
Eighty-seven percent of his group’s members are senior citizens, Wilson said, and many of the float homes date from the 1920s and 1930s. Most are usable only a few months of the year.
Yet, he said, the $1,000 fee would be more than double that charged by Oregon to downtown Portland float home owners who live in theirs year-round.
Other fees for taking up space on Idaho state waters run only a fraction as high, Wilson said. Log storage costs just $250 an acre. A multifamily boat dock that takes up the same 1,100 square feet used by the typical float home pays just $250 a year.
Williams agreed with Wilson. “A thousand dollars seems high,” he said.
Denny Davis, attorney for the association, said the state charges 3-3/4 percent of gross moorage fees as its rental fee for boat storage, including fancy houseboats that are tied up year-round.
“We think the 3-3/4 percent is fair,” Davis said. “If it’s fair for them, it ought to be fair for the floating homes as well.”
Float home owners pay property tax on the homes, he noted, in addition to moorage fees and other costs.
The Land Board agreed to study the issue and propose a new, lower fee at its November meeting.
“I think it’s encouraging,” Wilson said afterward. “I hope for some good things to come out of this.”
If Lance has his way, a premium for out-of-staters may be part of the proposal.