Silver Mountain valuation trial begins

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WALLACE — The saga between Shoshone County and Silver Mountain Resort ownership regarding the resort’s true property value could be near an end as lawyers from both sides faceoff this week.

Held at the Shoshone County Courthouse in Wallace, the estimated five-day trial will see both sides present their arguments to judge Richard Christensen for him to determine a final number.

The legal battle first began in July 2017 when Silver Mountain Resort owner and Eclectic LLC manager, Tryg Fortun, appealed the county assessor’s appraised value of his newly acquired property — essentially asking the county to lower the value of the property.

The Shoshone County Board of Equalization heard Fortun and his lawyer state their case in February 2018, but ultimately decided to uphold their assessed appraised value.

Fortun, who purchased Silver Mountain Resort in October 2016 from longtime owners, Jeld-Wen Holdings Inc., is arguing that the value of Silver Mountain should be based on the $5 million price that he paid to acquire the property. Contrary to this sale price though, the Shoshone County assessor assessed Silver Mountain Resort to be worth approximately $22 million.

These two very different figures set two very different tax rates for the resort to pay.

While Jeld-Wen owned the property, the company paid taxes on the county appraised value of approximately $22 million and never appealed the decision.

Following the Shoshone County Board of Equalization’s decision to uphold Assessor Jerry White’s valuation, Fortun appealed to the state to make their own determination.

On May 1, 2018, the Idaho Board of Tax Appeals concluded that the disputed resort properties in total were worth $6,310,000 — far south of the county’s number.

Within 10-days of the state’s announcement, County representatives decided to appeal the $6,310,000 valuation and take the dispute to the courtroom, which is where it is at now.

Monday was the first day of the trial and saw county witnesses White and private assessor Kenneth Voss take the stand. Each of the witnesses did their own evaluations of the Silver Mountain properties and came up with numbers significantly higher than both the state and Fortun.

Representing the petitioners (Shoshone County) during this trial are Attorney Richard Smith and County Prosecuting Attorney Keisha Oxendine. On the respondent side (Silver Mountain) is Attorney Peter Smith and Fortun.

Both sides spent much of the day asking White and Voss about their qualifications and how they came to their decisions regarding specific Silver Mountain properties. The properties initially involved include the Ski Resort, Silver Rapids Water Park, Galena Ridge Golf Course, Shoshone House Apartments, Morning Star Lodge, two condominium units in Morning Star Lodge, a commercial lot on Wildcat Way and some other vacant land (agreements have been reached on others).

The county’s stance since the beginning of this disagreement is that a decrease in tax revenue from Silver Mountain will negatively affect the services that Shoshone County, the city of Kellogg and the various districts (i.e., fire, water, sewer, etc.) provide to residents.

“The decision to take the matter to District Court is not about Shoshone County verses Silver Mountain with respect to business, operations and community participation,” County Commissioner Mike Fitzgerald said in a previous interview. “The county views Silver Mountain as a productive business — contributing to our local economy, providing employment, attracting visitors and investors, and setting an example as a community leader.

“The decision is about getting the fair and equitable value on Silver Mountain’s properties,” he added.

The Shoshone County Board of County Commissioners estimates that if the valuation is set in the $5-6 million range, both the Kellogg School District and the city of Kellogg could lose upward of $90,000 in funding. Other entities that would be affected include the County Road and Bridge Department ($4,000-plus), the West Shoshone Hospital District ($18,000-plus) and the county itself ($65,000-plus).

The stance of Silver Mountain and its owners is similar to Fitzgerald’s comments on how the county views the resort.

When the BTA decision was announced, Silver Mountain General Manager Jeff Colburn was pleased with their findings and explained that the lower tax rate would allow the resort to grow and in-turn, help the community.

“We’ve got a lot of things in the works. We’re working on some master plans and trying to get the big picture put together,” he said in a previous interview. “In order to grow a business, you have to spend money and we’re trying to figure out where we want to spend it and how to make this thing grow and have the Valley grow at the same time.”

The trial is estimated to last until Friday.

The Shoshone News-Press will continue to follow this story as it develops. For more background information, check out our previous stories on www.shoshonenewspress.com.

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