The Lake County Board of Commissioners discussed proposing legislation to change the Thye-Blatnik Act appraisal process at the committee of the whole meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 21.
Currently the U.S. Forest Service appraises the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness every 10 years and issues Lake, Cook and St. Louis Counties payments-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILT) at one-quarter of 1% of the value of the land annually. The 2018 appraisal was rejected by Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in late December after the three counties issued complaints.
County officials offered a possible legislative change that would shift away from the 10-year cycle and toward a more certain payment determination.
"I know we asked for a new appraisal and we got that," said Matt Huddleston, county administrator. "So part of me, at this point wants to just move forward there. But I think this has to be part of the discussion, as we've heard throughout this process how hard it is to appraise the Boundary Waters because there's nothing else like it around."
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County attorney Russ Conrow drafted a rough proposal that would eliminate the 10-year appraisal cycle and instead determine the fair appraised value by "using the 2008 Thye-Blatnik appraisal plus an increase of percentage based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) as of Sept. 30 of the previous year."
"It's just using the 2008 appraisal as the baseline and increasing it based on the CPI," Conrow said. "The risk is that maybe those values will shoot up and you’re stuck down low. But it could go the other way. But it gets away from this 10-year fight or hassle over the appraisals."
County assessor Gregg Swartwoudt recommended finding a different index to use rather than the CPI.
"The CPI has been altered politically multiple times in the last few years. There are better indices to use than the CPI — that's just the one that everyone knows," Swartwoudt said. "But I do think getting away from the appraisal is smart, because you're always going to be fighting it."
Commissioners didn't take any particular action on the proposal, but took the idea into consideration. Representatives from the county will be meeting with St. Louis and Cook counties later this week to discuss the reappraisal process.
"I wanted us to have this discussion in case the conversation sways this way," Huddleston said. "But we also need to discuss exactly what message we want to them to receive about the next appraisal."
The three counties will have a meeting with Perdue in Washington D.C. in late February or early March. The county plans to emphasize the 2018 appraisal has timber sales listed as the highest and best use for the land were it to be sold, without fully taking into consideration mineral deposit values and lake lot sales.
"We need to go into there and say we think they failed in their approach towards lot sales," Huddleston said. "That timber is timber. There’s some value there, but it’s not the main value. Minerals need to be part of the final consideration. They need to go back and find the real value."