Avoyelles School Board refuses to back down on lease increases

Puts hold on $200 user permits; rejects call for 2nd appraisal

 

The on-going battle between  camp owners, hunters and the Avoyelles Parish School Board boiled over again at the board’s meeting Tuesday, April 7. After all was said and done, the board held to its decision to increase the lease price for a waterfront lot to $1,800 and to $1,500 for property not on the waterfront.
 
The board said a special committee will revisit the proposal to charge an annual $200 permit fee to anyone wishing to hunt, fish or otherwise visit the board’s Section 16 properties. Board members said the committee will consider whether the permit fee could be lowered.
While the price of camp leases continues to be a hot issue,  deposits on 120 of the 156 camp leases have been paid. More are expected, even though the board-set deadline has passed.
 
Board officials met with camp owners at District Attorney Charles Riddle’s office, April 1. The two sides differ on what was decided at that meeting. Several camp owners said the board agreed to have another appraisal done and implement a four-tier rental rate.
Board President Mike Lacombe said board members agreed only to bring that proposal to the full board for a decision.
 
Dies on a tie vote
The motion to pay for a second appraisal was brought to the full board and died on a 4-4 vote. Board member John Gagnard made a motion to have Deshotel Evaluations of Marksville do another appraisal using a four-tier evaluation method instead of just two. The four tiers would be waterfront, non-waterfront, has utilities but accessible only by water, and no utilities with access only by water.
 
Board member Chris Lacour seconded the motion, which also received support from board members Van Kojis and Lacombe. Board members Lizzy Ned, Shelia Blackman-Dupas, Darrell Wiley and James Gauthier opposed the motion.
 
The tie-breaking vote,  Freeman Ford, was absent.
 
Since the motion failed to receive a majority vote in favor, it failed on the tie vote.
 
Before the vote, several camp owners complained about the School Board appraisal.
 
Lacombe said a second appraisal with a different company would cost $15,000 to $18,000. He said Deshotel Evaluations would re-evaluate its appraisal for $1,500, using the four tiers of properties. The camp owners attending the meeting disagreed with using Deshotel Evaluations for a revised appraisal. 
 
“It was our understanding at the meeting in the D.A.’s office that  a different appraiser would be used,” an upset Ryan Juneau said. “This appraisal is ‘BS.’” 
 
Dustin Ruthledge told the board the camp owners took the original appraisal at face value  but then found holes and discrepancies in the appraisal. He felt something was not right with the original appraisal.
 
“You are the leaders of the School Board and there is no transparency with this board,” Ruthledge said. “If it had been done right, the people would have lived with it.”
 
Following state law
Board member Darrell Wiley said the board has to follow state law that requires it receive a fair market value for the land or lease it to the highest bidder.
 
Those comments angered Juneau, who said Wiley would see what would happen -- an apparent threat to Wiley’s School Board position. Wiley told Juneau he wasn’t worried.
 
The nine School Board members were elected to four-year terms this past fall. Seven were re-elected with no opposition. Ned defeated her challenger and Lacour defeated an incumbent.
 
Jimmy Landry, a local appraiser, also disagreed with using the same appraiser for a second appraisal. He said if Deshotel Evaluations was allowed to re-evaluate the property, he would file a complaint with the state.
 
Marksville Mayor John Lemoine appealed to camp owners to to understand the board’s dilemma. He said the board is trying to help camp owners while wealthy investors are enticing them with offers to lease all of the 16th Section properties.
 
“If you don’t feel your camp is worth $1,500, you will lose your camp,” Lemoine said. “This board is between a rock and a hard place. Think hard about what you are asking this board to do.”
 
Howard Desselle, of Marksville, told everyone the board needs the revenue to educate the children of the parish. He said the children are the most important issue for the School Board. He recommended camp owners should support a small property tax to offset the revenue the board is trying to raise.
 
After the vote, Juneau shouted, “I told you (camp owners) what would happen. I will see you (School Board) in court.”
 
Juneau and others then left the meeting.
 
The board then decided to put the $200 a year permit on hold while the special committee on 16th Section lands reviews it. The committee will review information from other agencies that charge for user permits and will report back to the board with any recommendations for changing the policy.

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