Greek Yogurt Schools

This June 10, 2013, file photo shows the exterior to the Chobani plant near Twin Falls.

TWIN FALLS — Under a proposed settlement, the Twin Falls School District may owe Chobani $839,025 over two years after the company disputed the valuation of its Twin Falls Greek yogurt plant, school officials say.

Chobani filed a lawsuit in May in Twin Falls County District Court, saying the assessed value of its plant set by the Twin Falls County Assessor’s Office was too high.

A lower assessed value would mean Chobani would pay less in property taxes. A portion of property taxes goes toward Twin Falls School District bonds and levies. That means the school district could owe money to Chobani — essentially, as a tax credit — if the company was overpaying.

The topic came up Monday night during a school board meeting, but trustees didn’t take action.

“The ink is not dry on the agreement,” Twin Falls School District Superintendent Brady Dickinson told trustees.

Numbers are tentative and haven’t been finalized. There will probably be some other developments in the next month or so, Dickinson said.

Twin Falls County Assessor Brad Wills said Tuesday that nothing has been settled, but he talked with the Twin Falls School District about a couple of scenarios and trying to minimize the impact on the school district.

Wills said he can’t provide more details, but expects to have more information in about a month.

In a statement Tuesday, Chobani said: “We appreciate the willingness of Twin Falls officials to work collaboratively to bring this matter to a fair conclusion. It’s very premature in our discussions regarding our historical overpayments of taxes, but we would never entertain a scenario that stresses one of the most vital functions of our community, our schools. It’s simply antithetical to who we are and how we operate as a member of the community.”

The Twin Falls School District could owe Chobani $31,746 this year and $807,279 next year, according to school district estimates.

“Those numbers are just tentative,” school district spokeswoman Eva Craner said Tuesday, adding there’s room for negotiation.

When the school district’s budget advisory committee met earlier this month, the group wasn’t sure if the money would come out of the general fund, “which would be difficult,” Dickinson told school trustees Monday.

It looks like the district won’t have to touch its carryover money, he said, and won’t seek additional money from taxpayers.

Dickinson said the school district will be able to work with Chobani and can continue to meet bond obligations. When property tax money is collected, the money owed to Chobani would be deducted, he said, before it goes into the school district’s bond account.

This year’s amount will primarily affect the emergency levy, Craner said. It means the school district could potentially collect $31,746 less than expected.

The Twin Falls school board approved a $2.5 million emergency levy in September. It’s taxpayer money, but the request doesn’t come before voters.

Emergency levy money is used to help cover additional expenses — such as for more employees and materials — that are associated with increased student numbers.

For next year, the money the school district may owe Chobani — potentially, more than $800,000 — would primarily come out of bond funding. It would have a longer-term impact, Craner said, and would decrease the speed the school district can pay on its bonds.

How did all this come about? Last year, Chobani appealed its assessment to the Twin Falls County Commission.

The assessor’s office initially valued the property at more than $495 million. The assessment was lowered upon appeal to $424 million, court records say.

But Chobani argued the total value of its real and personal property was just $176 million. The Idaho Board of Tax Appeals disagreed, but in April modified the value to nearly $393 million.

Chobani took its case to Twin Falls County District Court. Online court records show a jury trial scheduled for June 2019, unless a settlement is reached before then.


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