Land Board rejects swaps for office space

Should the state swap its lakeside cabin lease sites for additional office space in Idaho Falls and Nampa?

The state’s Land Board spent much of Tuesday morning discussing the issue — both in open and closed executive session. Emerging from behind closed doors, the board voted to reject the exchanges Tuesday afternoon. (Here’s more about the board vote from Betsy Russell of the Spokane Spokesman-Review.)

The board of five statewide elected officials is charged with managing the state’s endowment lands for a host of beneficiaries. The biggest beneficiary is public education, which receives about $31.3 million a year in endowment payments.

But the state is trying to wean itself from managing cabin sites on Priest and Payette lakes, which is where the office space exchanges enter the picture.

Lands Department staff recommended the exchanges, saying the moves will bring in more money for the endowments.

For example, one exchange would swap 58 cottage lease sites for nearly 76,000 square feet of office space in Idaho Falls; the state would also receive $1.5 million in cash to even out the deal. But the Lands Department said the office leases would generate more than $2 million a year for the state, compared to the $870,000 received from the cottage leases.

“We feel that (this) is a quality transaction,” said Kathy Opp, the Lands Department’s deputy director.

Not everyone was convinced.

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Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa

State Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, listed several concerns with the Idaho Falls exchange. The Idaho Falls office property is “way overvalued.” The office space will gradually depreciate, unlike cottage site land that will tend to increase in value. And while the office space is now being used by an Idaho National Laboratory contractor, there is no guarantee that the contractor will choose to keep this work in the area.

“I think we can do better,” said Vander Woude, who urged Land Board members to slow down and take a closer look at the swap.

This drew some mild ribbing from Gov. Butch Otter, who said the issue has been studied extensively already.

“You ought to run for the Legislature,” said Otter.

Canyon County commissioners Kathy Alder and Steve Rule also objected to the swaps. The Nampa office space exchange would take $33,000 off the county’s property tax rolls, said Alder. Rule, meanwhile, questioned how summer cabin sites can be measured against office property. “(It’s) “like comparing rubies to, I don’t know, potatoes.”

Similar land exchanges have drawn criticism before. Vander Woude and Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, say the state cut a bad deal in 2012, when it exchanged a University of Idaho Science Center near McCall for a different Idaho Falls office parcel.

More Land Board news: The state has $943,000 in hand for a planned Snake River Canyon motorcycle leap. But will Idaho schools be able to hang onto the money? The EDge blog.

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