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Clearwater Paper mill request for lower valuation gets denied

LEWISTON, Idaho (From news reports) - The Nez Perce County Commission voted 2-0 Thursday to deny a request by Clearwater Paper to lower the value of its Lewiston mill by more than $100 million.

Commissioners Douglas Zenner and Don Beck, sitting as the county Board of Equalization, listened to arguments from Clearwater Paper executives and county Assessor Dan Anderson before casting their votes. Commission Chairman Douglas Havens was absent.

"They came to us at a late date with some other figures they thought were germane that would have dropped the value some $124 million," Anderson said. "I obviously did not agree with that."

Nez Perce County Auditor-Recorder Patty O. Weeks said the county calculated the taxable value of the company's Lewiston plant at $449,790,965 for 2020. The Board of Equalization is where property owners can go to contest those assessed values each year. Anderson said the other requests this year were rather unremarkable, save for the massive reduction requested by Clearwater Paper.

The factors presented by Clearwater Paper were complicated, but partly consisted of its belief that Anderson's office didn't fully account for the company's rising cost of corporate overhead in its value calculations. But Anderson and consulting appraiser Brent Eyre, of Salt Lake City, argued that they employed the exact same "discounted cash flow" model of appraisal they have used since 2005. Anderson noted that the company agreed to that model when it was still Potlatch Corp., and his office was surprised by the sudden request this year.

Anderson also said the request came after a year of record profits for the company that were partly driven by the COVID-19-related demand for the tissue products like toilet paper that are manufactured at the Lewiston mill. The company also handed out hefty bonuses to its executives, he said, which added to the corporate overhead costs Clearwater Paper cited as a reason for a value reduction.

"That made it more difficult for me to accept in one of the best years (for the company) that I've ever seen," Anderson said.

But he did say the assessor's office is looking forward to meeting again with company executives to take a more in-depth look at their points and hopefully arrive at valuations that are much closer to being the same in the future.

Weeks said the Lewiston School District would have suffered the most if the commissioners had agreed to the company's request since it is funded by two fixed tax levy rates. By her calculations, the district would have lost $633,533. It would have only meant a small reduction in county and city of Lewiston revenues, however, since those entities have levy rates that change with market value.

Anderson said that would have meant the taxes that would have been charged to Clearwater Paper would simply shift to the rest of the property owners in the county, who are primarily homeowners.

"Everybody else would be picking up the difference," Anderson said.

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