City Government

Gov Little Family Paid 79 Cents Per Acre In Taxes On Foothills Land

The recently announced deal between Boise City and the family of Gov. Brad Little to purchase family-owned land in the foothills to be set aside for public use points out the need for property tax reform in Idaho.

The six parcels are taxed at the rate of 79 cents per acre. The Little’s paid $255 in total taxes for 2020 on 325 acres.

The city is paying $1.2 million for 325 acres. The price and value are uncontested and represent a “good deal” for city taxpayers. The city is making the purchase with funds approved by voters to stop development in the area.

The land–highly coveted by developers–was taxed at a mere 79 cents an acre. That’s right folks, with the agriculture exemption, The Littles paid only 79 cents per acre because it was appraised as “dry grazing” land. Yet, when it comes time to sell, the owners–any owners–turn around and claim it is worth many thousands of dollars per acre.

The land in question is between Seamons Gulch Rd. and Pierce Park Ln. It lies north of Hill Rd.

Had they sold to a developer rather than the city, the GUARDIAN suggests a “development or zoning adjustment fee” should be established. Just for fire protection alone the cost has certainly exceeded 79 cents per acre on an annual basis.

The biggest cash crop in Southwest Idaho is rooftops, but current Idaho law requires taxes are based on “current use” of the land, allowing farmers to avoid taxes on the “true value” of land and cashing in when they sell. Meanwhile, they reap the subsidy of those of us who pay the higher tax rate.

Boise Bench Representative John Gannon called the tax example a “gross under taxation.” He is serving on the Interim Legislative Property Tax Committee for comment.

Gannon went on to say, “This purchase price is a good deal for Boiseans and I appreciate the Little family selling it. I hope Boise can buy some open space on the Boise Bench too. But this gross under taxation once again shows the unfair, unjust and unconscionable Idaho Property tax system. You can’t even start to put out a fire for 79 cents an acre. This past tax treatment is another reason why property taxes continue to shift to homes.”

Comments & Discussion

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  1. The ag exemption applies to quite a few properties in Ada County. A 64 acre parcel adjoining my property in the Meridian area was paying less than $1000.00/year whereas my home on 1 acre is taxed at almost $2000.00/year. The 64 acres sold for millions yet tax wise was appraised as ag land and enjoyed the lowest tax rate available. Another that comes to mind is the property adjoining the HP campus off Cloverdale. Meanwhile home owners continue to be taxed at the highest rate possible.

  2. Another example of property tax inconsistency – The Crane Creek Country Club near Bogus Basin Road does pay property taxes, but these have signficantly decreased by at least 50% on some of the parcels – from $16,056 to $8,639 over the past decade.

    Plus this land is surrounded by Boise City but has not been involuntarily annexed into Boise City limits as Boise has often done to residential neighborhoods and to allow developers to change the zoning. Being designated as unincorporated Ada County helps keep the taxes lower.

    And the Secretary of State website shows this business as a non-profit.

    EDITOR NOTE–If memory serves, the city cannot involuntarily annex parcels over 5 acres. They end up classed as “enclaves.”

  3. Don’t forget that we as taxpayers also pay the Little & Soulen entities million$ in farm welfare payments…

  4. God Help Us!
    Jul 20, 2020, 11:16 pm

    Hey, You interrupted my Netflix binge watching for this? Joking, but that is what we are up against. The topic as explained is far too complex for the sheep our schools are producing. I overheard a parent telling her daughter the zero interest credit card is a “good investment”. God Help Us!

  5. Highland Land and Cattle owns almost all the ground along 21-16-55. Next to Simplot he has the monopoly.

  6. chicago sam
    Jul 21, 2020, 6:57 am

    Most of the undeveloped land in the Treasure Valley has the same problem–Assessed as Ag .land the value is much less than what a zoning change or a gov. entity with excess money in its budget will value the land.
    The 5 acre Ag exemption needs to be modified and the timing of when the property is put on the tax rolls with a higher classification needs to be changed. Numerous examples can be found where developers have obtained favorable zoning, and in many cases waited years to develop but were taxed as Ag land because of the 5 acre Ag. exemption.
    In this case I would hope capitol gains taxes will be collected, but there will be no taxes collected in the future and the citizens of Boise will pay to maintain it.

    Country boys took the city slickers on this one.

  7. For the Littles, taxes were probably a minor concern. They saw the writing on the wall that the real estate bubble is headed for collapse, so they sold while they still could. Otherwise they may have held it for years to come, with not a buyer in sight. Boise City, on the other hand, may have been able to buy it for a steep discount at some point in the future if they waited.

  8. This is a great article, and a super interesting issue, thanks Guardian.

    At one level, I think it’s important for food prices & farming stability that agricultural land remain tax advantaged versus ‘rooftops.’ At least part of the reason that the value of this ‘soon to not be agricultural’ land is because it’s by far the easiest to develop as rooftops. I would argue that land is taxed inappropriately in both directions – This ‘farmland’ in close proximity to urban Idaho is under-taxed to the point that it encourages speculation, and at the same time, some existing neighborhoods are overtaxed (or, more accurately, highly valued) because land development rules really only allow significant greenfield construction.

    What I mean is, land that is closer to the city center is restricted/not allowed to intensify past a certain point, even when the value would clearly support a higher proportion of rooftops (and therefore, a higher tax collection). This dynamic makes tax advantaged farmland speculation possible, at least in part.

    We could address this with free market tools – allowing residential density to increase where the land value warrants such, but of course this is opposed by many Boise residents (though it has been silently pushed by the current and past mayors).

    Another way to reduce farmland speculation would be to not needlessly improve infrastructure to said farmland. For some reason, ACHD & ITD insist on creating their own infrastructure problems in this manner, by repeatedly expanding road infrastructure to un-built areas, and then acting surprised when it fills up with traffic.

  9. Dave Kangas
    Jul 21, 2020, 6:34 pm

    Idaho legislators especially Rep Moyle promote low taxes as a magnet for business. In practice though, they continually pick winners and losers. Tax breaks, sales tax exemptions, protections of AG interests like this. If Idaho’s tax policy was equitable across the board we truly would have a low tax environment and plenty of money for education. I understand and agree with the rationale of low tax assessments for agriculture. We need to grow food. If those assessments increased along the same rates as residential, there would be no incentive to keep the land as agricultural land. However, when that development windfall is received there should be a mechanism for the state to collect a fair share. If you also look at commercial properties you will see a similar scenario. Commercial properties are assessed through the income approach(revenue minus expenses). This results in stable assessed values over time which is a huge benefit for commercial property owners. Plus they get to deduct all their expenses(maintenance, repair) and depreciation. The building on Broadway next to the river has been assessed at $9.5M for almost 10 years. Yet, it sold and appraised for over $21M. Legislators felt very little wrath this last session for not increasing the home owners exemption or the circuit breaker credit. That needs to change this session.

    EDITOR NOTE–You forgot to mention Moyle took $10,000 from Trump’s payroll protection scam and the Broadway mirror building is now off the tax rolls because BSU uses it as rental income property.

  10. The cycle of change
    Jul 21, 2020, 6:58 pm

    Littles. Always making a buck off of the public.

  11. Concerned Neighbor
    Jul 22, 2020, 9:11 am

    There is more than 1 tax out there. The Little’s will pay a 7% Idaho income tax on the $1.2M and a 20% capital gains tax to the Fed.

    Speaking of Capital Gains, isn’t it time to revamp that? The point of it was to reduce turnover of equities, but that has flown out the window with automated and flash trading. Perhaps start taxing it as Income, add in a CPI-U inflation deduction to support long term (low volatility) holdings, and a 0.1% sales tax on those transactions.

  12. Concerned Neighbor, not quite. Assuming no convoluted corporate structuring (i.e, assuming the Littles hold the land in their personal name or in a pass-through entity, which is probably a false assumption), the Littles will not pay income tax.

    They will pay long-term capital gains to the state and to the fed.

    To the Guardian’s point, though, it’s not about the tax levied at the time of sale — every property owner is subject to that. It’s about the fact that the ag and timber exemptions permit people like the Littles to hold incredibly valuable real property without paying tax like everyone else. The effect is that the rest of us have to pay more tax to make up for what they are not paying. The Guardian is right: that just is not fair. It would not be inaccurate for someone to say “we have all been paying Brad Little’s taxes for him.”

    Regarding automated and flash trading: both are still transactions involving the purchase and sale of capital assets, so they are subject to short-term capital gains. Short-term capital gains are taxed at the ordinary income tax rate, according to the standard tax brackets.

    Your suggestion of a 0.1% sales tax or transfer tax on equity trades is a fantastic idea. Imposing even a tiny transaction cost in that environment would do a lot to cabin an industry which, we should remember, does not actually create economic value. (I know, I know, automated traders point to “liquidity” as their value but that’s pretty thin soup.) Anyway, I think your idea is a good one. So does Elizabeth Warren, incidentally, which makes me uncomfortable to say but it’s true.

  13. I once owned a single family home that was rezoned as a multi-family area. My lot assessment was adjusted accordingly. I was being taxed on potential, not on actual use. Where is the fairness or equity? A new market land value has been established by this sale. Will similar properties now be appraised for tax purposes at a new market rate?

  14. There would be no faster way of forcing the sale and paving of all farmland in Ada County than by doing away with the ag exemption. And Ada County has historically had some of the best farmland in Idaho.
    Yes, recent legislation thanks to Moyle has made it impossible to annex 5 acres without consent even if surrounded by a city — but that wasn’t in place during the forced annexation of now NW Boise in 2015/2016. And remember many parcels are smaller than 5 acres individually but have traditionally comprised larger farms — eg the last 40 acres of Matlock farming land now Corey Barton and CBH associated holdings in NW Boise were annexed against the will of the Matlocks — possible because the Hill Road Parkway reduced the sizes of each parcel to slightly less than 5 acres.
    Without the possibility of the AG exemption, the policy of forced annexation could literally increase taxes 10 fold almost overnight. As it was, many people with a small pasture that they traditionally used to raise their own food had taxes go up more than 100 percent — an especially insidious means of social engineering land use change especially for the elderly that would prefer to live out their days on long held family lands.

  15. I think even more important than the tax issue. DO THE RESIDENCE OF BOISE NEED THE PARCEL? Probably not. Elected public servants WANT IT? Is the property even in the city limits?
    Is it develop-able?
    Shame on all elected public servants that continue to spend tax payer monies on things NOT NEEDED.
    Please don’t come back with the people voted for it. The are many Boise park projects that could have used those monies.
    I can’t afford to continue paying for trails in the foothills! That surround new subdivisions for out of towners? CAN YOU ?

  16. The parcel is not within the current Boise City limits but is partially within the designated boundary of Boise’s Area of Impact. And the ballot language did not specify the funds could only be used within the City limits, so funds have already been spent outside of the City limits.

    The City website page for Levy Projects shows the following:
    $40,000 – Highway 21 wildlife overpass
    $200,000 – Daylight Cottonwood Creek
    $440,270 – Intermountain bird sanctuary
    = $680,270

    Various articles shown on the City website include another $790,000 for:
    $435,000 – Hillside to Hollow land expansion, near Bogus Basin Road
    $355,000 – Purchase parcel next to Hill Road Parkway which resulted in approximately a $100k quick profit for Cory Barton/CBH

    Recently, the March Advisory Committee Meeting Minutes for this fund show the receipt and review of an application to fund a flood plain study for a private developer. Granted no action has been taken on this application, I find this to be coloring way outside of the lines of the intent of this fund.

  17. The cycle of change
    Jul 24, 2020, 3:32 pm

    There are many different diverging issues that make it impossible to have a comprehensive plan. They are now accepting comments regarding the proposed urban renewal areas (four or more of them) and asking residents to comment. What opportunity have residents had to be educated and organized such as developers are by the urban renewal agencies? The proposals speak of development that is way beyond the currently zoned build out. So they are using a presupposition of a rezone while discussing a potential urban renewal boundary. What if a person wishes to keep their property right?

    The problems are twofold in my analysis. Urban renewal puts all the property in the zone into the hands of a developer, thus excluding the right of the individual property owner to develop or not, or if, in the case of family ownership. Urban renewal also seeks to change zoning for more density. It requires homeowners to pay for developers dreams. It builds density, which is currently equated with viruses.

    The parcel of the Little’s which the city bought would be excellent dense new housing. People who rent can live on a hill with a view. But it is bought to protect other foothills owners from apartments, duplexes, skinny houses and homeless parking of cars and motor broken down homes.

    Those hills have never ever been farm land. Unless of course you’re using advanced Japanese hillside family farm techniques.

    1.2 million for something that was not in the original plan is simply unnecessary. But it is over now, and done. So much for 1.2 mil for other city needs.

  18. I saw this a couple weeks ago, and I immediately thought, “hmmm, what’s this about”. Having the governor’s family sell land to the City of Boise, had my spidy senses tingling.

    However, After looking at the average price per acre in the area, it became immediately apparent, that the Littles, sold the land at a very fair price. They could have gotten a lot more. So, I don’t feel as if it was unethical at this point. (I reserve the right to change my opinion at any time!!)

    Whether or not Boise really needed this parcel, I’m not sure…so I’ll let that part go.

    After reading the article and some of the posts, I wanted to add some context, in regards to the Ag exemption.

    I have a just over 5 acres parcel, so I qualify and use the Ag exemption. I raise a couple cattle and about 20 sheep a year on about 4 acres of my property. I pay normal property taxes on my house and the land around my house that is not used for raising animals. I pay a lower rate for the 4 acres. I pay more than the 79 cents per acre that was mentioned, but I’m not offended by someone paying less in an area that isn’t a “neighborhood”. Let me assure you, plenty of taxes get paid. I donate a good amount of my sheep and beef to the local food bank and keep some for myself and neighbors. I don’t make money on this. This is a way of life, and the Ag exemption really helps with that for us small guys too.

    In regards to running cattle on land and the cost of fires…Running cattle on a large swath of privately owned land is a good thing for fire safety. Hundreds of head of cattle eating up all of that brush actually helps with the
    fire abatement, it doesn’t make fires more likely to start. So cattle ranchers, actually do the city/county a service by clearing all of that brush.

    That being said, my property and most of my neighbors are not speculators, these are our homes. But, speculating with land is a tough business, your money could be tied up for years and if you took a gamble and put your hard earned dollars to work, you should be rewarded. Regardless of the ridicule, those who didn’t take a leap, give you, when they say, that you somehow gamed the system. The system is there for everyone and the opportunities are out there. God Bless.–N

  19. A great acquisition for the city and the 60 people using that piece in the future. btw, it has always been “open” for light public use.

    Let’s keep in mind, Gov Little could have DONATED the land- you know since it was so little value, and grazing it was likely a nuisance- due to bikers, hikers, and horses using the property anyway. Would I want to lease it for my cows? No, I would be chasing loose cows every Monday from city-people not closing the gates.

    The collective 325 acres plot was assessed for $19,000 valuation.

    $19,000 vs $1,200,000(+).

    Sure, based on a few cows grazing it each summer- and using the income method, “Little” income= “Little”‘ tax.
    But it is just 1 more example of the inequity in our property tax assessment system.

    As suggested there should be a mechanism to ‘catch-up’ the gross underpaying of property taxes.

    When the federal govt does not pay property taxes on US Forest land they pay the counties, a “payment in lieu” of taxes- because obviously the counties get hosed by the feds not paying the taxes for a county that might be 90% fed land.

    OR just not give the ag exemption unless a “farmer or rancher’s” income is 70% from the farming business.

    Nate’s example above is the 2nd epitome of the problem. Sorry Nate, but your 5 aces is 5 acres of residential land and should be tax accordingly. A couple cows, goats, and chickens should not allow a person to pay less tax. Can’t afford property taxes on 5 acres? Don’t buy it.
    Subsidies? ha.

    But instead of equalizing things, IDAHO legislators grant a capital gains deduction when a land-owner sells real estate such as this.
    So Little’s won’t even pay full rate on the 1.2million. Idaho grants a 60% deduction on the profit.

    No, it’s not ‘gaming the system’. It’s using a system that is skewed to the advantage of those making the rules for the game.

    I have pointed it out previously on the Guardian, that high value residences are also clearly undervalued for tax assessments. Commercial properties are undervalued, and now this is clear ag properties are not carrying their water either. $300,000 house? you get hammered!

    End result: high net-worth land owners such as the Littles are not paying a fair share of property taxes. The burden is shifted disproportionately to the low and middle income.
    Ha, suckers!!!

    These laws are at the state level, not the city or county. Farmers are controlling the state tax rules? (sly and selfish)

    May I repeat- or NOT give an ag exemption unless the owner is really a farmer or rancher —- at least 70% of their income is from that property.

  20. Of course Little gets special treatment….corruption is present in every government institution. That’s why we need to throw the ocean of bathwater out and keep the baby that drowns in it.

    What really fries me is learning that Little restricted pharmacists from dispensing hydroxychloroquine for off label use. Now…he is calling a special session of our do-nothing legislature to skate away from any damage done to patients that might have been helped by HCQ. 217 may have died needlessly because of his stupid move. Who is HE listening to?…the poop for brains agency know-nothings that are on a political witch hunt vs doctors that know better and of course….President Trump. And Brad Nailer Little just helped them.

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