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TF County takes a hard look at farmland values

TWIN FALLS — A few weeks ago, he spent his days running a construction company. Today, Twin Falls County Assessor Brad Wills is in a whole new role, focusing on finding a new formula to assess the county’s farm ground.

Filer farmer Ray Moore says property taxes on farm ground are too high; but it’s not the tax rate he’s disputing, it’s the value placed on farm ground by the county’s former assessor that has him riled.

Moore says the formula used by former-Assessor Gerald Bowden over-inflated land values by about $1,000 per acre. Moore and the Twin Falls County Farm Bureau is working with Wills to find a more realistic formula.

Idaho law outlines two methods to assess farmland, Wills said. One is a simple formula based on what the land would rent for annually. The other is a more complex formula based on a moving target: farm income minus production costs over time.

Bowden used the second, more complex method, which Moore says left many of the production costs out of the equation, resulting in higher assessments.

Wills agrees that the valuations are too high.

“We have to make it affordable to farm,” he said.

While agriculture is what drives Idaho’s economy, farm values are a small piece of the county tax rolls, Commissioner Terry Kramer said Tuesday.

The total land value in the county is about $4 billion, Kramer said. Of that, farm ground falls in the $600 million range.

Moore appealed his property assessment last summer to the County Board of Equalization — in this case, the county commissioners. Commissioners denied Moore’s claim because his assessment was not in error, Commissioner Terry Kramer said Tuesday.

But Moore’s appeal opened commissioners’ eyes to the real problem, Kramer said. His appeal is more of an indictment of the formula, not the valuation itself.

“Ray has brought this awareness that Twin Falls County farmland is valued differently than in surrounding counties,” said Kramer, who farms 350 acres of hay, grain and corn near Castleford.

Moore has now taken his claim to the state Board of Tax Appeals.

Property taxes are figured by multiplying the value of the property by the appropriate tax rate. The more valuable the land, the more a property owner pays in taxes: A farmer owning 100 acres worth $3,000 per acre pays 50 percent more taxes than the same-sized farm worth $2,000 per acre.

Ideally, Wills would like to see the county’s agricultural tax base stay in line with neighboring counties.

“Here’s the quandary,” Kramer said. “There are no specific regulations (as to assessment formulas), each assessor uses his own twist.”

In addition, Idaho allows a farm exemption, dramatically reducing taxes by assessing land value based on production instead of market value of the land, he said. In the end, farm ground that would sell for $7,000 per acre is assessed at an average of $2,800 for property tax purposes.

Agriculture is big business in Twin Falls County, where crops bring in nearly $600 million per year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2012 farm census.

The goal, Wills said, is that similar farms raising similar crops would be assessed at similar values.

He knows he has his work cut out for him.

“I’m still getting my feet wet,” Wills said.

Meanwhile, Kramer is watching Moore’s appeal closely.

If you do one thing

If you do one thing: Gary and Cindy Braun will perform from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Rock Creek restaurant, 200 Addison Ave. W., Twin Falls.

Idaho lawmakers take steps to prevent sexual harassment as #MeToo spreads

BOISE — The second day of the 2018 legislative session saw Idaho lawmakers undergo mandatory training to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, a reaction to the recent groundswell of misconduct allegations in statehouses across the U.S.

Two separate hour-and-a-half-long training sessions for legislators, staffers, and lobbyists included a discussion of potential changes to the Legislature’s anti-harassment policies, including additional avenues for reporting complaints.

A small working group to review the Legislature’s harassment policies, led by Sen. Cherie Buckner Webb (D-Boise) and Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy (R-Genesee) is also in the works, Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill said.

“With the events of the past few months, it became very clear that even though we don’t think we have a problem here particularly, when you look at some of the people who have been accused out there, they’re not necessarily people that I would have thought,” Hill told an audience of staffers and lobbyists in the second session of the day.

A draft of the Legislature’s updated anti-harassment policies, available online as of the morning of Jan. 9, clarifies that sexual misconduct investigations may be handled independently by the Attorney General’s office, and expands the avenues available for reporting complaints. The new proposed policies do not, however, allow anyone other than a lawmaker to file a formal ethics complaint against another lawmaker.

The updated draft also makes it clear that there will be penalties for reporting unfounded, “malicious” complaints, Hill noted— “because you’re ruining people’s lives that way as well.”

The training on Tuesday consisted of thorough definitions of different types of harassment, discussion of hypothetical situations that could qualify as harassment, and real-life examples of inappropriate behavior in the workplace.

“If you’ve been in public service, a lot of it you’ve heard before,” said Rep. Sally Toone, a Democrat from Gooding, after the lawmakers’ training session. “But it’s good to have it reinforced.”

Though the #MeToo movement hasn’t hit the Idaho statehouse to the extent that it has other states, Gem State lawmakers and other government employees haven’t been immune to allegations of sexual misconduct in recent years.

A complaint made during the 2017 legislative session accused Rep. James Holtzclaw (R-Meridian) of making inappropriate “flirty” comments to at least two women; Holtzclaw later apologized and called the allegations a “huge misunderstanding.”

Last month, the Idaho State Controller’s Office settled a sexual and racial harassment claim from a former employee, who claimed that Chief of Staff Dan Goicoechea “often demeaned and degraded women and minorities” in the workplace through inappropriate comments and behaviors.

And the training took place just hours after former Rep. Brandon Hixon (R-Caldwell), who resigned from office in October while under criminal investigation for possible sexual abuse, was found dead in his home from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

A letter signed by 14 female lawmakers in November called for mandatory sexual harassment training in the statehouse. Legislative leaders had already been planning an anti-harassment training course for the beginning of the upcoming session, Hill and House Speaker Scott Bedke said at the time.

While lawmakers sat through the presentation Tuesday afternoon, a handful of women stood in the rotunda of the capitol building, listening to a pitch for laws that would more harshly penalize employers for condoning or ignoring harassment.

Tuesday’s harassment training is “a good start, and we applaud the legislature for taking it,” said Joy McKinnon, vice president of Southwest Idaho NOW, the National Organization for Women, addressing the small crowd gathered. “But it’s not enough.

“The ‘boys will be boys’ and ‘it’s just his generation’ culture won’t end without strong laws,” McKinnon said. “This is a legislature full of gentlemen, and we’re positive they will look at things differently now, and do the right thing to protect victims.”

'A positive, caring individual': Educators, friends remember Andy Barron

TWIN FALLS — Educators and friends are remembering Andy Barron, a popular teacher and coach who touched thousands of lives, as a positive, caring person who mentored many of the district’s current leaders.

Barron served many roles during his 30-year career with the Twin Falls School District — including as Twin Falls High School‘s associate principal and activities director until his retirement in 2007.

He died Thursday at age 67. His wife of 44 years, Mary Barron, is a Twin Falls school board trustee.

Following a surgery, Barron — who was a very active person — unexpectedly suffered a massive heart attack, said his best friend Dr. David McClusky.

School district spokeswoman Eva Craner said school officials reached out to Barron’s family and they’re not ready to comment.

The thing that stands about Barron is the love he had for Twin Falls High, school district Superintendent Brady Dickinson said. “He really poured his heart and soul into his job there.”

When Dickinson earned his master’s degree, he did his internship shadowing Barron. He said he learned a lot from the way Barron approached his job and his passion for education.

“He was a mentor to me as I was entering the point in my career where I was transitioning to an administrator,” he said.

McClusky got to know Barron through their children — who are now adults — when they were playing sports together.

“We just had a friendship ever since then,” he said.

Barron had good Christian values, and acted with integrity, honesty and was a caring person, McClusky said. “He was that type of person, just because he was there and was your friend, it made your day happier and brighter because of him.”

Barron was also the person you called if you needed help, McClusky said, and was a supportive friend.

They shared fun experiences together, too, such as taking a group of high schoolers to Washington, D.C.

Ty Jones, executive director of the Idaho High School Activities Association, has known Barron for decades, beginning when Jones was a student at Twin Falls High.

Jones said he’s in shock over Barron’s death. While he was in Twin Falls a few weeks ago, he chatted with Andy and Mary after seeing them downtown eating lunch.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever met a more positive, caring individual than Andy Barron,” Jones said.

He had Barron as a social studies teacher and coach at Twin Falls High in the early 1980s. Jones’ father was also a coach with Barron.

Barron was probably ahead of his time with his coaching style, Jones said. “He was not the ‘tough as nails’ kind of coach. You definitely knew as a kid that he cared for you.”

Years later when Jones was a new athletic director in Jerome, Barron took him under his wing. Many times, they drove together to Pocatello to meetings.

“You always knew you could call him and get any type of advice and help from him,” Jones said.

Barron made an impact on his students, he said, and the whole athletic program at Twin Falls High “has Barron’s fingerprints all over it.”

Bill Hartley, a school counselor at Vera C. O’Leary Middle School, worked with Barron for about 15 years at Twin Falls High.

Even though Hartley wasn’t a coach, he and a couple others traveled with Barron to many Twin Falls High away games, “from Nampa to Rexburg and all points in-between,” Hartley said.

There was always a meal involved, as well as lots of stories and laughs, he said. “You were guaranteed to have a great time with Andy.”

People gravitated toward Barron because he was fun to be around, Hartley said, but was also a hard worker and rule follower.

As a school employee, “if you ever needed a pick-me-up, you went to Barron’s office,” he said. “You always felt better when you left than when you went in.”

As a child, Barron grew up in Buhl on his family’s farm. He loved sports from an early age, and played football for Buhl High School and on a full-ride scholarship for Idaho State University.

While at ISU, his met Mary. They married and had two children, son Josh and daughter Sara.

Barron began his career teaching and coaching at Jerome High School and Bonneville High School in Idaho Falls before coming to Twin Falls High.

Over 34 years as an educator and coach, he received many awards.

His first job in Twin Falls was as a social studies teacher, as well as head wrestling coach and assistant football coach, beginning in 1977. He took on the extra responsibility of intramural director in 1980 and track coach in 1984.

Barron became vice principal at Vera C. O’Leary Junior High School in 1985 and district activities director from 1986-88. He was associate principal at Twin Falls High starting in 1989 and also took on activities director responsibilities in 1998.

Even after his retirement, he stayed plugged in with the school district. He helped with the drug testing program and at sporting events.

Barron ended up finding a second career — for the U.S. Forest Service as a driver and supply and distribution officer during fire seasons. He worked up until September.

Barron enjoyed traveling around the world with Mary and their friends, and to southern California each year. He also loved having coffee each week with friends at Java.

McClusky said he’s encouraging people to remember Barron’s friendship and the love he showed to others by emulating him. “That’s what made our lives great and what he gave to this community.”