Writings and observations

news

A Seattle Times editorial suggests that the majority Republicans in the U.S. House are descending into chaos. Φ Also in the Times, Danny Westneat writes about a Seattle woman who’s being priced out of her Bank of America checking account. (What’s happening: She doesn’t have enough money to get gouging monthly fees waived; if she had a much larger bankroll, there’d be no fees.) Φ Where does Washington state store the money it gets from marijuana fees, taxes and so forth? Having a bank big enough to defend itself against possible federal activity seems to be a prerequisite.

The ocean’s chemistry has been changing significantly, and Northwest scientists are look into it, and how those changes have been doing serious damage to much of the life within the ocean. Φ There’s a significant industrial center in northwest Portland, close by the Columbia River; so what happens to it (and the river) if an earthquake hits? It won’t be pretty, a new study says. Φ The Phil Knights are offering the Oregon Health Science University a half-billion dollars for cancer research – if they can match it. The push is on … Φ Eugene is considering establishing more than one camp for the city’s homeless, since the need seems to be so large.

St. Luke’s is working on a major push in the Nampa market, and there’s some serious pushback in the form of a lawsuit from other providers. At what point is competition squashed, and at what point does a large enough ability to buy goods and services allow for price containment? There’s material for a serious round of thinking on this. Φ A new study suggests that the number of jobs in agriculture in Idaho (still the state’s predominant industry overall) are down, although there’s some growing demand for certain types of specialized work.

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First Take

intermediary

The Intermediary, the fascinating and remarkably detailed story by Orofino historian Lin Tull Cannell of William Craig and his unique role in the development of the early Northwest, came out a couple of years ago when it was published by Ridenbaugh Press. Now we’re pleased to offer a couple of additions.

Lin has developed two more pieces available for free download. You can get them on the Intermediary web page or right here.

One is an index to the book, which Lin had contemplated earlier and now is available. (Note: the Index is based on books with print date 20 August 2012. The pagination is different in the earlier versions.)

The other is an errata sheet.

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books

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

Last year the Idaho Department of Lands swapped out the University of Idaho Science Campus at McCall, which it managed as part of the state endowment lands used to generate money for public schools. It obtained in exchange an office building and about three associated acres in Idaho Falls, owned by the private firm IW4 LLC; the Idaho National Laboratory lead contractor leases space there.

Were this being done exclusively by private businesses, no one outside the parties involved would know or care; and probably not much either if only government entities were involved. The business deal gets more complicated when public and private entities both are involved, and this one shows why someone outside the process ought to oversee such exchanges.

The McCall property was estimated to be worth $6.1 million, and maybe it was since, after the Idaho Falls firm IW4 LLC obtained it, it flipped the property to another buyer for $6.1 million. However: The buyer was the University of Idaho, a state agency. So you could say the state sold the property to a private buyer for $6.1 million, which paid in the form of another piece of property, and then bought it back for $6.1 million. Or: IW4 LLC used the state to convert its Idaho Falls property into $6.1 million, rather than just sell it to a cash buyer themselves.

Huh? This still might make some sense if the Idaho Falls building and land was in fact worth, and salable for, $6.1 million. But here’s the catch.

Last week a group called the Tax Accountability Committee, whose spokesman is Boise attorney John Runft, together with state representatives Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, and John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, threw some additional light on the situation. They had developed their own appraisal and concluded the Idaho Falls property was worth $4.5 million, which would mean IW4 LLC effectively cleared an easy $1.6 million on the overall deal. (Boise blogger David Frazier, who has been tracking state property purchases closely, said that Bonneville County has assessed the property for as little as $2.2 million.) Vander Woude and Burgoyne said they plan to introduce legislation in the next session to require review appraisals.

The question of what the Idaho Falls property actually was worth has led to a round robin of squabbling. The Idaho Department of Lands has replied that is did a proper review, and pointed out that while both properties generate rental income, McCall’s amounts to about $250,000 annually while Idaho Falls’ comes to $538,000 (although, since these are income properties, such rentals should have been factored into the appraisal valuations). Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, who chairs the land board which approves such transactions, said that full appraisals could be expensive.

Burgoyne countered that, “When doing a $6.1 million transaction or any other transaction involving endowment land, the cost of a review appraisal is not, as IDL contends, excessive; it is simply prudent, will save money by avoiding over and under valuations, and bring IDL into conformity with business standards of care.”

Determining exactly how much a piece of property is worth can be a matter of pinning mercury, as anyone who has bought or sold a house can testify. When it comes to exchanging – or in effect, selling – its endowment lands, that slipperiness becomes a difficult issue for the state. (That’s in addition to the issue, also relevant, of the state becoming an active player and competitor in the private real estate industry.)

To be clear: No one is suggesting illegality here. But absent broader oversight, you can see how few steps it would take to get from here to there.

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Idaho Idaho column