Following his retirement in the mid-1990s, Tom Simons moved to the Heyburn State Park vacation cabin he’d acquired some 30 years prior. The small cabin is in a wooded section of the 8,000-acre park, within easy walking distance of Chatcolet Lake.
“I like it here. You’ve got the lake and all the trees and it’s nice and quiet,” said Simons, who is 73.
But Simons and other cabin owners, who lease their land from the state Department of Parks and Recreation, say proposed increases in the lease and utility rates could force them out. Simons currently pays about $1,400 annually to lease the land and about $200 for utilities. An appraisal calls for his rates to rise to more than $3,000 for the lease and about $1,200 for utilities.
“It’s going to press me right out,” said Simons. “I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do yet.”
Heyburn, which is just east of Plummer, is the only state park in Idaho that offers leased lots. Cabin owners on Priest and Payette lakes lease their properties from the state Department of Lands. Some of the Heyburn properties have been around since the early 1900s, said David White, north region manager for the state parks department.
The park includes 24 floating homes and 142 cabins that are owned by citizens who lease the property from the state. The owners are mostly local, from Spokane, Lewiston, Moscow and Pullman, but one family is from Florida and another is from Kentucky.
State law requires new leases be issued every 10 years and that the land be appraised every five years, White said. The appraisal conducted in 2008 will dictate lease rates from 2010 to 2014, he said, adding that the rates did rise substantially from the appraisal done in 2003 – in the neighborhood of 142 to 159 percent. The lease rates are 5 percent of the appraised value.
Currently cabin lease rates range between $1,063 and $2,731 per year for a cabin and $1,300 for a float home. Those rates are proposed to increase to between $2,763 and $6,613 for a cabin and to $2,750 for a float home. Cabin owners also pay $216 per year for utilities; float home owners pay $72. Those rates are proposed to increase to $1,291.97 for cabins and $749.51 for float homes.
Utility fees are being driven up by Heyburn’s need for a new water system and a requirement by state environmental officials that it develop a centralized sewer system, White said. Utility payments also include trash removal, common area lights and paying into an account for road improvements, White said.
White said in order for the parks department to be a good steward of public lands, it needs to ensure it is receiving fair market value for the leased properties. Cabin owners are using state parks land that would otherwise be available to all members of the public, he said, though he acknowledged the higher lease rates will create a hardship for many of the cabin owners, most of whom are working class people.
“There’s a little bit of sticker shock here,” White said.
A meeting today at 1 p.m. at the Plummer Community Center will offer leaseholders the opportunity to talk with the appraiser and parks department officials.
“As a leaseholder representative, what we’re seeing here are some increases that are in the amount that will not be supportable by people who have leased cabins there,” said Michael Fereday, whose family has owned its cabin in the park’s Rocky Point area since the 1950s. Fereday is vice president of the leaseholders association.
Fereday said the leaseholders have a problem with the way their lease is calculated, using 5 percent of the land’s assessed value. At Payette and Priest lakes, he said, the Department of Lands uses a 2 1/2 percent figure.
White said the state parks and recreation board settled on the 5 percent figure after completing an assessment of leases charged on other state and federal lands in Idaho, on public lands in Montana, and after conferring with a real estate professional.
Fereday, however, said Heyburn cabin owners have more restrictions on the use of their properties than leaseholders in other areas. They are restricted from using their properties for more than six months of the year, with the exception of a few property owners, like Simons, whose usage was allowed under a grandfather clause. And they can’t remodel or rebuild their cabins larger than 1,000 square feet.
“Most of us are people of modest means,” Fereday said. “There’s carpet layers, plumbers, retirees and high school teachers. It’s not the playground for the rich from Seattle. It’s one of the only places in Idaho that has been relatively affordable and is going to become out of reach for many people.”
White pointed out that the Department of Lands has tried in the past to raise those lease rates and noted that the DOL provides no amenities to its leaseholders.
“We have provided the roads into where their cabins are. They have streetlights. We provide the Dumpsters. There are costs associated with all of that whereas the Department of Lands, you’re truly just getting a piece of property,” White said. “They have to drill their own wells. They have to pay for the power into where they may be. Those are their own costs. There is a little bit of a difference there.”
In addition, he said, “the Department of Lands doesn’t think they are getting a fair market value for that piece of property. It is lakefront property and highly sought-after.”
Cabin owners have the right to appeal their valuations in a process that doesn’t end until November, White said.
“It’s only the second time we’ve done the appraisal process,” White said. “I’m expecting many more appeals this go-round due to the large jump.”