Valley County commissioners might ask voters to approve a property tax levy to pay for guaranteed public access to state endowment land around Payette Lake.
Commissioner David Bingaman says the amount to be proposed is not known, but that it should not add “an undue burden” on taxpayers.
The levy would be used to pay for recreational leases on state endowment lands near Payette Lake and Little Payette Lake.
The county has made inquiries with the Idaho Department of Lands on how such leases could be arranged, Bingaman said when he presented the tax idea to fellow commissioners on Monday, April 19.
The proposal comes a month after the Idaho State Board of Land Commissioners voted to dissolve a moratorium on leases on state-owned land around McCall, opening the door for potential development as residents and recreationists voiced their concern.
The board also voted to lift a moratorium on leasing activities on its McCall-area land and “begin accepting applications for lease, easement, land exchange, and disposition of lands.” The Department of Lands is now vetting applications, including a controversial land swap proposed by Boise investment firm Trident Holdings that would lead to development that many in the McCall area have rallied against.
The proposed Valley County levy would help fund the cost of the leases and pay for development of parking areas, Bingaman said. Later improvements paid by the tax could include trails, trailheads and developed campsites.
The county would also look to secure public access elsewhere in the county, Bingaman said.
Valley County already has leases from the state on the Francis Wallace, Brush Creek and Green Gate snowmobile parking lots as well as some roads on endowment lands used as snowmobile trails.
Commissioner Sherry Maupin and commission Chair Elt Hasbrouck support the idea.
“We have to start planning 10 years and 20 years down the road, not next year, we have to create opportunities to grow,” Maupin said at the commission meeting. “This is just the very first opportunity where it’s really raised itself to do that,” she said.
Bingaman said he hoped the discussion over the future use of endowment lands would lead to a discussion about access and open space in other areas of Valley County.
“It’s a big picture plan for what we want Valley County to be,” he said. “It’s making sure that we have what we want in place before it all gets developed.”
Access to public lands benefits everyone from berry pickers and mountain bikers to hunters, hikers, snowmobilers and paddle boarders, Bingaman said.
“It isn’t about promoting new tourism or one type of activity, it is about providing long-term access to the places that made us all want to live here,” he said. He called the topic “nonpartisan.”
The county also plans to work with the city of McCall, Payette National Forest, Payette Land Trust and the Payette Endowment Lands Alliance about increased access to public lands, Bingaman said. Having a tax in place would help secure that access, he said.
“We need a funding mechanism to secure easements, acquire land where needed and secure public access before it is lost forever,” Bingaman said.
Having a tax in place would help secure that access, he said.
The county needs to gauge public support for a recreation levy and determine how to craft such a levy under state law, he said.
Commissioners could seek either a permanent levy, which would require a two-thirds majority of votes in an election, or a two-year levy, which would require one vote more than 50% in favor.
No date was targeted to put the measure on the ballot.
The Idaho Statesman contributed.