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Land swap raises concerns

The Idaho Department of Lands has its sights set on a few buildings in Idaho Falls, in exchange for land in McCall. This has many Bonneville County officials concerned.

They are worried that this isn’t an even swap, especially since the land will cut into taxable property for the county. The department plans to exchange 14 acres of cottages in McCall for three commercial buildings in Idaho Falls.

Many are wondering if this exchange is fair because the land in McCall is worth $23 million. But Public Information Officer for the Department of Land Emily Callihan, said they have reliable figures from professionals.

“We interviewed several appraisers and settled on one that is highly qualified, who has a lot of professional designations. (It’s) Somebody who is really considered an elite, highly professional appraiser who will determine the market value of those buildings,” said Callihan.

Experts in Bonneville County don’t completely agree. County Assessor Blake Mueller came up with a substantially lower value for the three buildings in Idaho Falls.

“The total value that we have on the property is $7,412,000. That is what we have on just the buildings and the land,” said Mueller.

It’s safe to say that almost $8 million is nowhere near $23 million, but Mueller said the department could be taking other factors into consideration when deciding the overall value of the buildings.

“I don’t know what value exists in future contract income. I don’t know if they’re buying inventory, furniture fixtures or computer equipment,” he said.

So what does an even swap mean to the taxpayer? It means the commercial buildings are no longer taxable and taxpayers will have to pick up the tab. That tab is more than $130,000 in property taxes. But Callihan said the department believes revenue from acquiring these buildings will help the state in the long run.

“By swapping one under-performing asset for another that makes higher return we consider that a very positive thing for public schools. We’re able to make more than double the cash returns for the public school endowment fund,” she said.

Regardless of the proposed increase in cash revenue, county commissioners are worried the claim of doubled income will take a long time to pan out, which will increase the need for money from taxpayers.

The decision isn’t final yet. The Department of Land will meet with the Land Board next Tuesday at the Capitol building in Boise.

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