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Co. says no to justice; lake-home residents frustrated

Ann Latham displays the broken beer bottles Monday she picked up near her dock from boaters who party near her lake home. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

WILLMAR -- The Kandiyohi County Commissioners may have just turned one of the state's more liberal supreme court justices into a cynic.

In a 4-1 vote Monday night, the commissioners, acting as the board of equalization, turned down Justice Paul Anderson's request to lower the market value on a newly purchased lot his and his wife, Janice, own on Big Kandiyohi Lake.

Standing at the podium before the board, admitting the process was intimidating and that he was nervous, Anderson said he wasn't appealing the market value of the property because he was protesting taxes.

On the contrary, he said he believes in higher taxes and thinks it's a "despicable" that the state government has cut county revenues so much.

He said it probably cost him more to drive out to Willmar for the meeting that the extra taxes are costing him.

Anderson said he was at the meeting to defend the truth and the evidence of the law.

"When somebody is wrong, somebody has to speak up," Anderson said outside the board room. "If not me, then who?" he asked.

Anderson also wanted to put some teeth into his constant message to young people that they should question government but that they have no right to be cynical considering the abundant opportunities they have.

Anderson said he'd been hearing a lot of cynicism from other lake neighbors about inequities in the county's property values and decided he needed to appeal his case to make a statement and to counter comments that the board wouldn't lower his values.

"Don't make me a cynic," he asked the board.

As he explained it, Anderson and his wife have owned a lot on the lake for many years and wanted to purchase the 50-foot lot next door.

A Willmar real estate broker they hired appraised the property, which included a 560-square foot unpainted cabin, at $74,000. They approached the owners with a $78,000 offer that was accepted. Anderson offered documents supporting his claim that the transaction took place between willing sellers and willing buyers at an agreed price.

Saying he was "a bit dumfounded" when the county valued the lot at $102,000 in 2009 and $113,000 in 2010, Anderson questioned why Kandiyohi County Assessor Tim Falkum didn't accept the transaction as a legitimate "arm's length sale." An arm's length sale typically means the transaction took place between unrelated individuals under no duress.

Anderson argued that the law was on his side.

But Falkum said because the property hadn't been on the public market and was never listed for sale, the transaction didn't meet the state revenue department's definition of an arm's length sale.

Diane Swanson, who reviewed the property for the county and established the market value, said because the landowners didn't live in the area they may not have been unfamiliar with lake values in the county.

She also cited the values of similar property that had values both higher and lower to the lot in question.

Anderson said that was the first time he'd heard that information.

Commissioners Harlan Madsen, Richard Larson, Dean Shuck and Dennis Peterson voted to deny Anderson's request.

Chairman Richard Falk, who sold real estate for many years, cast the dissenting vote.

The vote was taken after Anderson and his wife had left the meeting.

The Commissioners also voted to deny a request by Henry and Sherilyn Zimmer of Hawick.

Green Lake values

William and Ann Latham said they are paying the price for the public's love of the shallow water in front of their Green Lake home near Spicer. They asked the board to lower the values on their residential lot and a neighboring bare lot to compensate for burden they bear.

They said they are unable to enjoy their home, their kids don't want to spend time at the lake and past efforts to sell the property have failed because people know the area is a "magnet for bad behavior that wouldn't be tolerated" on the lake near a public park, said Ann Latham.

Because deputies can't be there all the time, she said the area has is a "reputation for not having rules."

The abuse of their beach and lake in front of their home has decreased the value of their property and that should be reflected in the county's market values.

The board wanted to sleep on the request and is expected to take action at their regular board meeting today.

The board is well aware of the Latham's complaints of numerous boats, rafts and partiers anchoring in the water in front of their home. They took action this spring aimed at encouraging boaters to go elsewhere.

On Memorial Day there were at least 100 boats in front of their house, said William Latham.

"I wouldn't want it in front of my house," Peterson said.

Ann Latham displayed containers full of broken beer bottles she picked up near their dock. She's afraid her young grandchildren will get cut by the large shards of glass if she doesn't clean it up every week.

Latham said their family has hired deputies privately to patrol the area, which provided some relief, but she said that's too expensive to do every weekend.

Falk said he knows the situation is a problem for the Latham's but said it's also a problem for the county because the lake is public water.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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