BOISE – Idaho in early June will prepare to sell or trade away some or all of its 521 leased lakefront cabin sites, including more than 350 at Priest Lake.
The process will not be quick. “It’s not going to be done immediately,” said Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa. “No one wants to get out of this thing faster than I do. But I also have a duty of undivided loyalty to the beneficiaries. We need to do it in a manner where we will get as much as we can.”
Idaho’s state Land Board is required by the state constitution to manage state endowment lands and the permanent endowment fund for the maximum long-term financial return for the beneficiaries, including Idaho’s public schools and other institutions like the University of Idaho.
That’s part of the reason Idaho is looking to get out of the business of renting lake sites on which lessees build and own their own cabins. Charging sufficient rents has been tough without forcing out longtime cabin owners, but the endowment suffers if returns don’t come in.
On Tuesday, the Land Board voted unanimously to move forward with the plan, and will spend about $1.48 million to conduct surveys and otherwise prepare for the transactions. State lands strategic business analyst Kate Langford said that may sound like a lot, but it’s “less than 1 percent of that total estimated value, on a conservative level.”
A December 2010 consultant’s report put the combined value of the state-owned cottage sites at $252 million – $152 million at Priest Lake, and $100 million at Payette Lake.
If all 521 lots were sold or traded away and went from state to private ownership, Langford said it’d be a big boost to the property tax base of Bonner County, which has the Priest Lake cabins, and Valley County in central Idaho, which has Payette Lake.
Under the state’s plan, in most cases, cabin owners who now lease their ground from the state would have three options: voluntary participation in consolidated land exchanges, voluntary participation in rolling auctions for sale of the lots, or continuing to lease the land from the state.
The state might choose to retain some of the lots; in those cases, it might buy out the cabin owners.
Bud Belles, president of the Priest Lake State Lessees Association, said he’s disappointed by the time frame. “This is going to stretch out for years if they do it their way,” he said. “If the values go up and nothing happens, a lot of us won’t be able to afford our lots … we’re going to get kicked off our lots, essentially.”
Belles, 70, a retired computer consultant from Nine Mile Falls, said he wants to buy the land under his cabin, which has been in his family since he was 8 years old.
Langford said the first lots should be ready for sale or auction in the first quarter of 2012, and the state should have finished the surveying and other work on all the lots by the end of 2012.
Tuesday’s vote came as the state and cabin owners are facing off in court over rental rates; on Friday, 4th District Judge Michael McLaughlin issued a written ruling calling for a rent freeze to match 2011 rents to 2010 levels. The Land Board then filed a motion for reconsideration, saying if it had to match rents for 2011-2013 to 2010 levels, the state endowment – and Idaho’s schools – would lose close to $6 million.