Details unclear: County Commission has questions on reservoir land deal
Mark Klose, chairman of the Stutsman County Commission, said there are a lot of questions that need to be answered before he can support the transfer of the land around Jamestown Reservoir currently owned by the Bureau of Reclamation to Stutsman County.
"Would like to have this clarified before we agree to a memo of understanding," he said. "The bottom line is there is significant cost to the county."
Stutsman County Commissioner Dave Schwartz said the process of transferring the land is "in a confused state right now."
Initially, some of the cabin owners at the Jamestown Reservoir requested to purchase rather than lease their lots. A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate included the transfer of all land around the reservoir from the Bureau of Reclamation to Stutsman County, which Congress approved and the president signed. When the details are finalized cabin owners will be able to purchase their lots from Stutsman County at a value set by a third-party appraiser.
"The way the original thing was drafted we were supposed to recapture any and all costs," Schwartz said. "There is confusion if we will recap all costs or costs associated with cabin lot sales."
The initial draft of the memo of understanding between the Bureau of Reclamation and Stutsman County was discussed but not acted on at the May 7 Stutsman County Commission meeting. A report from Bureau staff regarding questions raised during that discussion could come as early as the June 4 County Commission meeting.
The draft memo of understanding calls for Stutsman County to deposit $34,000 with the Bureau to cover costs associated with transferring all land currently owned by the Bureau of Reclamation to Stutsman County. If costs exceed $34,000, Stutsman County would be required to contribute additional funds in $10,000 increments. Costs would include any surveys and inspections required to ensure compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act as well as any other federal laws.
Klose said the Bureau would receive the proceeds of any cabin lot sales and reimburse the county for costs associated with the lot sales. The county would have to cover the costs of any inspections, surveys or title preparation for the rest of the land around the reservoir.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said Stutsman County would have opportunities to recover those costs over time.
"There are two campgrounds included in the land," he said. "They will have income opportunities from the land they keep."
Klose said any income from the campgrounds has been reinvested in those facilities in the past. He estimates the revenue from land grazing leases that would go to the county after the transfer would amount to about $10,000 per year. But also coming to the county would be all costs associated with weed control and any other expenses associated with managing the roughly 4,000 acres of land around Jamestown Reservoir.
"We have to take all the land and it is highly restricted in its uses," Klose said. "Now the Bureau covers those costs. All those costs would come to the county."
Klose said Stutsman County would be prohibited from selling any of the land other than the cabin lot sites, and land retained by the county must be used for public recreation and/or grazing.
A bigger hit to the Stutsman County Park Board revenue budget would come as the cabin lots are sold to the cabin owners and no longer pay the lot lease to the county.
Nicole Meland, Stutsman County auditor and chief operating officer, said currently, the cabin lot leases amount to about $140,000 in revenue per year and cover about half of the operating expenses of the Stutsman County Park Board.
"If a lot is sold, that goes away," Klose said. "That is a significant drop in revenue. Not a one-time loss but every year."
Meland said the only other income to the Stutsman County Park Board is from campground operations, concessions and possibly transfers from the Stutsman County general fund which comes from property tax money.
Schwartz said possible increases to revenue from Lakeside Campground and grazing may cover about half of what could be lost if the cabin lots are sold rather than cabin owners paying rent for those lots.
Klose said there are still many details to be worked out regarding the mechanism of the transfer of the land title especially for land outside of the cabin lots.
Hoeven said it was the transfer of the cabin lots to the cabin owners that has been the priority.
"It has been quite a process," he said. "Getting it back to the individuals, that's what is important."
Schwartz said the process of working through the details will take time.
"None of the transitional steps will likely happen this year," he said. "It's possible this might not be solved by 2020."
Klose said the Stutsman County Commission should take its time in reaching agreements because most of the financial burden is falling on the county.
"There was no money appropriated by the state or federal government to fund this," he said. "What's the rush. We want to do this right."