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May Be Time For ‘See You In Court’

Earlier this month, Kootenai County Commissioner Ron Rankin raised eyebrows by accusing Crown Pacific of being a property tax slacker. In fact, he called the lumber company’s appeals of four years’ worth of assessments “the epitome of corporate greed and corporate hypocrisy.”

The attack was unprecedented. Not only was Rankin commenting upon ongoing litigation, but he’s known far and wide as a tax activist. Rankin, after all, fathered the failed 1 Percent Initiative and routinely has voted to slash tax assessments.

So, what set Rankin off? Crown Pacific, Rankin contended, was using legal thuggery to win tax breaks from North Idaho’s rural counties. By launching expensive appeals, the company hoped to force counties to settle on its terms. Last week, Boundary County did just that. Crown Pacific also has sued Bonner County.

The company shouldn’t be written off as a tax freeloader. But there is a pattern here. For the sake of their constituents, Kootenai County commissioners should fight this one through the courts if Crown Pacific doesn’t negotiate in good faith.

Much is at stake.

If Crown Pacific prevails without a court challenge, it could set a precedent for industrial companies.

Locally, $640,000 in current and back taxes, including $271,000 earmarked for schools, hang in the balance. Crown Pacific has appealed valuations of its Spokane River mill from 1994, 1995, 1997 and 1998. Crown Pacific claims “economic obsolescence” has lowered the mill’s value to only $3.8 million - a far cry from the county’s $16 million assessment. The company argues that high log prices, tight log supplies and low finished lumber prices make the mill worth much less.

Crown Pacific has dug in its heels at a time when the lumber market is improving, when the local mill is humming along. In fact, Rankin’s challenge comes as the Portland company prepares to build a $17 million sawmill at Bonners Ferry and plans to pay $153 million for 65,000 acres of timber land in northwestern Washington. In other words, the company isn’t hurting.

Kootenai County has negotiated in good faith with Crown Pacific officials, offering to slash up to $6 million from its assessments. But, Rankin said, “they won’t deal, they won’t talk, they won’t compromise.”

Crown Pacific, of course, has a right to appeal an assessment. Rankin would be the first to admit that. But it doesn’t have the right to make North Idaho residents pick up its tax bill.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board

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