Thursday, May 10, 2012

Terrific Article in Hungry Horse News ~ Very good synopsis of where we're at

The article (also in Whitefish Pilot): Girl Scout camp in jeopardy, lease jumps five-fold

Posted: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 4:07 pm

For more than 50 years, local Girl Scouts have been staying at Camp Westana on Lower Stillwater Lake. But by next year, the memories and joys that go with camping there could vanish.
Camp Westana is on state school trust lands, and those lands were reappraised by the Montana Department of Revenue in 2009. The seven-acre parcel, with a generous expanse of lakeshore footage, skyrocketed in value, and the lease the Girl Scouts pay to use the land increased from $5,000 a year to $25,000. The local troops simply can’t afford that.

“It’s 50,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies,” noted Tom Sago, whose family members are involved in Girl Scouts.
A box of cookies sees a 50-cent profit.
Troop leaders from Columbia Falls and the region are working on solutions to save the camp, but none of them are easy fixes. They met again last week with regional leaders to brainstorm solutions.
Several ideas have unfolded. First, the scouts have agreed to pay for a reappraisal of the property. That could lower the value of the land and the scout’s lease payment. Land values were high when the Revenue Department did the appraisal in 2009, and they have dropped substantially since the real estate bubble burst. But even if the appraisal comes in lower, the land value is still likely to be higher than the prior appraisal done in 2003.
Another option is a land swap. The scouts could look for a donor willing to swap with the state for a piece of property equal to or greater than the value of Camp Westana. The site on Lower Stillwater Lake, however, is worth about $500,000, and finding a donor could be difficult.
A third option is a permanent easement. The easement would allow the scouts to use the property in perpetuity after they pay a lump sum to the state, according to Mary Sexton, director of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. Sexton said the exclusive use of the property for the scouts could be negotiated in an easement.
But the state can’t simply give the scouts a discount on the lease, Sexton noted. The Montana Constitution requires that the lease be tied to market value. About 10 percent of the state’s school funding revenue comes from school trust lands, Sexton said, and not all are scenic lakefront properties. The Costco-Lowe’s shopping center in Kalispell, for example, sits on school trust lands leased from the state.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Council Support, Top Priorities, & We have money for the appraisal!

This is a very broad summary for now, because too much has happened since yesterday and dinner won't cook itself (and my husband, our primary cook, is working)!

But in a nutshell, the town meetings felt like a huge success, primarily because;

  • We know we continue to have council's support in doing what we can to save the camp
  • We have new knowledge about options and combinations of options that keep the door open for saving the camp, *if we can raise the money*
  • Kay Smith (Westana's caretaker) has nurtured an independent bank account started by the previous care taker, so we can pay for a new appraisal (a key first step in moving forward; this is not something other camps have, that we have because it's from a long time ago and was maintained over the years)
  • Everyone present at both meetings got to speak and showed enthusiasm and commitment to moving forward (the money is overwhelming but everyone is willing to try)
This is on our shoulders locally to pull off, but with Girl Scouts councils nationally all down-sizing their number of camps, we are fortunate to have our council's full support in attempting this.

Most of the options available don't involve owning the camp; it will remain school trust land under most scenarios, but there are easement and other options that do allow us to save the camp if we can raise the money.

Our first steps are:
  • New appraisal
  • Assess what qualifying local entities are most interested in and are the best fit for applying for an easement (more details on these types of particulars will be posted later)
  •  Funding options (donors, grants, any feasible options)
  • Keep working toward deciding which option or set of options (easement, land exchange, etc.) are the best fit 
  • Work out the details for accepting donations (which people have enquired about giving since the first week, but we couldn't/can't even think about taking money until we've got council approval and followed the right steps as part of a non-profit organization)
Bottom line is that we are moving forward!