“A win-win benefiting kids and schools” Whitefish Pilot 9/19/2012

To read the column in the Whitefish Pilot Online, click here.

 

A win-win benefiting kids and schools

Lisa Jones and Heidi Van Everen  

We have been writing about Whitefish Legacy Partners efforts to provide more money than ever with our current “suite of transactions” on the table. Some folks may be wondering what “more than ever” actually is? How much money are we talking about for schools and kids?

It’s been nearly a decade since the community driven 2004 Whitefish School Trust Lands Neighborhood Plan outlined options for providing additional monies for the school trust. Since that time, the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation has continued generating revenue in traditional ways, such as timber harvest/sales, cabin leases, grazing leases and recreation leases, to a tune of about $3 million total over the past seven to eight years.

What most folks don’t know is that these lands will continue as working forests and will continue to provide revenue from traditional sources, and the proposed conservation/recreation transactions will essentially be bonus money for schools and kids. These transactions, calculated at market value, simply offer additional monies for buying off development rights providing permanent public access to quality recreation experiences, while the DNRC continues traditional revenue generation.

At this week’s meeting of the Montana Land Board, the state’s top officials reviewed appraisals for full market value and approved the minimum bid for the first conservation transaction, totaling nearly $3 million for schools and kids. The two additional conservation transactions set to be approved by the Montana Land Board in 2012 are targeted to generate an additional $4 million for the school trust.

So “more than ever” means approximately $7 million more than we have ever generated before for Whitefish School Trust Lands.

The Whitefish community, led by conservation hero Mike Goguen, has raised (and continues to raise) millions of dollars of this bonus money for kids and schools, and has been described as a model for the rest of the state. And remember the DNRC will continue to generate money for the school trust on these lands, as they always have through timber sales, cabin leases, commercial recreation leases, etc.

Some people have advocated for these parcels to be sold off to private developers and be closed to the public forever. Some have argued we should look back and use 2004 real estate prices to value these transactions and thus prevent the current proposals from moving forward in 2012.

We believe asking for fair market value is the best approach. We believe generating revenue now supports kids and schools today. Even though locals have raised millions of dollars for kids and schools, some people just don’t like conservation.

Whitefish Legacy Partners has found a win-win situation benefitting kids and schools, our local economy, and the quality of life of our citizens. With the Whitefish Trail growing every year and conserving 2,500 acres of land in perpetuity close to town, without taking the risk of exorbitant lease increases (like the Girl Scout’s camp and KidsSport complex), we feel the time is now to provide more trails for recreating, more lands for public access, clean water quality, uncluttered views, and high quality wildlife habitat, AND more money than ever for kids and schools.

This is a team effort, so please join us by making an annual Whitefish Trail “Friend or Family” donation, becoming a Corporate Sponsor and/or volunteering. For more information, visit whitefishlegacy.org or call 862-3880.

— Lisa Jones and Heidi Van Everen work with Whitefish Legacy Partners