A group of investors has offered to lease all 16th Section properties from the Avoyelles School Board for $291,628 a year. Rodney Rabalais, the attorney for the interested investors, presented the offer to the board at a special meeting on March 31. The initial lease would be for five years, with an automatic option to renew the lease for another five years.
“I’m here to make a global offer on behalf of a group of investors on all of the lands listed in your projected increase calculations,” Rabalais told board members. “My clients believe the rental on Pomme de Terre sets the base market value for your 16th section lands where hunting is obviously the highest and best use. You are getting $22,431 for Pomme de Terre.”
Rabalais said his clients would pay $22,432 each for Saline Lake, Lake Long, Garfish Bayou and Muscle Lake properties. He said the board estimates the revenue for camp leases on Saline Lake to be $10,500 a year, $4,500 a year for Lake Long, $10,500 for Garfish Bayou and $13,500 for Muscle Lake. Rabalais said his group would pay $122,400 per year to lease the Old River tract.
The price is the projected price the board is hoping to collect from camp owners. However, Rabalais pointed out that the board may not collect all of those camp leases. He said the same is true for the Spring Bayou tract, for which the group is offering $79,599 per year -- the same amount the board estimates it would receive from individual leases.
Again, Rabalais noted that the board is not guaranteed that amount through leasing to individual camp owners, but would be under his proposal.
“My clients’ offer does several things beneficial to the school system,” Rabalais continued. “It pays a guaranteed $291,628 per year for five years for you to use for capital improvements.”
He continued that with current interest rates on bonds, the School Board could make several million dollars worth of capital improvements backed by the annual lease income.
Rabalais said the single-lease option would take the School Board “out of the real estate leasing business” and enable it to focus its time and efforts on improving the school system. In addition, he said, “it also brings you true and real market value for the properties.”
Rabalais said the School Board appraisers’ report defined market value as ‘the most probable price which a property should bring in a competitive and open market under all conditions.’ With my clients’ offer, you know -- not probably, but certainly -- what your lands will bring in an open market. To accept less for the lands is not getting the most probable price for your property in an open market. You will be getting a lesser price in a closed market.”
Board President Mike Lacombe -- who took over the reigns of the presidency after Van Kojis resigned the position at the beginning of the meeting -- responded by asking what would happen to the current camp owners if the board took his clients’ offer?
“My clients hope the camp lessees will continue to lease on a negotiated basis,” Rabalais answered.
DA urges caution
District Attorney Charles Riddle urged the board to proceed with caution in considering the proposal. He said state law would require the board to advertise for bids before it could take a “global offer” such as that presented by Rabalais.
Several camp owners said the board’s appraisal of the properties was too high and flawed because the appraiser did not have all of the information. They asked that another appraisal be conducted.
“We have to follow state law and base the leases off what the appraiser set the value of the property,” Lacombe told the camp owners several times during the meeting. “This is not us. If we don’t follow state law, we are in violation.”
Lacombe said the full board would have to decide whether to incur the cost for another appraisal of the properties.
No board member made comments supporting a second appraisal.
Kevin Ducote, a camp owner, said people leased the property and then paid to have electricity and water services installed to the camps.
Lacombe said the appraisal was just for the value of the land and did not include any upgrades made by camp owners.
“Going with just one bidder, the people will lose their hunting and fishing,” Libby Juneau told the board.
Effect on deseg order
Allen Holmes, lead plaintiff in the school system’s 45-year-old desegregation suit, said the case is coming to a close. However, he said the school board has to follow U.S. District Judge Dee Drell’s orders. which include raising funds to pay for construction projects in the board’s court-approved 10-year capital outlay plan.
“Enjoy hunting by signing the lease agreement,” Holmes told the audience. “Sign the lease or someone else will sign the lease agreement. We need to get the courts out of our school system and let these nine members run the board. If the courts take over, no one will be happy.”
Board member Chris Lacour agreed with Holmes and urged people to sign their leases. He said it is in the hands of the camp owners on how the leases are handled.
Board member Darrell Wiley said a former state senator from Rapides Parish was upset with people hunting on 16th Section lands in 2011 and called the state auditor to do an investigation on how the School Board handled leases on 16th Section land.
“The state auditor said we were in violation with state law because they said we had to get fair market value for the property,” Wiley said. “We don’t want to see the camp owners lose their lots, but we have to raise money.”
Wiley asked the camp owners if they actually thought the camp leases would stay at $400 a year. Some owners said yes while others said they thought leases might increase, but did not expect them to quadruple to $1,500 and $1,800 a year.