Palin cabins not noted in Mat-Su property tax assessments

SAFARI LAKE: Lawyer says it's the borough's job to update records.

February 4, 2010 

Records show that Sarah Palin hasn't paid any property taxes on cabins that have been built on two backcountry plots partially owned by the former Alaska governor.

There are no tax assessments for the two-story, house-sized cabins, a workshop and a sauna spotted Thursday in an aerial survey. Property taxes totaling $156.13 were paid on the land in 2009 -- but that bill did not include anything for the structures because the local assessor didn't know about the new construction nearly 100 miles north of Anchorage.

The issue has attracted the attention of local tax officials who conducted the scheduled aerial survey of properties in the area on Thursday. The area is accessible only by floatplane, snowmobile or four-wheeler.

Dave Dunivan, the assessor for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, said such a survey had not been done there in five years, before construction started on the cabins.

Palin's attorney, Thomas Van Flein, said it is not the responsibility of property owners to report structures that go up on their land.

"It is the borough's job," he said in an e-mail. "The property taxes on this parcel are fully paid and have never been delinquent."

Dunivan, however, said owners are required by state law to report any omissions or errors in their tax assessments. Often, the borough learns of new structures in remote areas when neighbors report them. Dunivan said no one has called the borough on the Palin lots, among many in the region to add structures, the flyover survey found.

"Typically, if there are errors, we hear from owners," he said. "If there are omissions, we don't. Every once in a while we do have someone call us about omissions, but not often."

The properties are located along Safari Lake -- an undeveloped area located near Denali State Park -- and owned by Palin, her husband Todd and a family friend, Scott Richter. According to borough records, the tax assessments are sent to Richter's post office box in Big Lake.

There is no phone listing in Alaska for Richter and he could not be reached Thursday.

The matter first appeared Wednesday on an Alaska political blog, The Mudflats, which has been critical of Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate. Palin resigned as governor last summer and has since written a best-selling memoir. She signed on as a Fox News commentator last month.

"This is another blatant attempt to manufacture a story about the Palins following more defamatory swipes," Palin's spokeswoman Meghan Stapleton said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

Dunivan said a photo of a large cabin posted on the Mudflats site -- and later reported on the Huffington Post Web site -- is one of the structures spotted in the flyover.

Van Flein said work is still being done on the cabins, but both are usable. He said construction began on one of the cabins in 2006, but he didn't know when construction started on the second one.

The borough taxes structures even if the buildings are not finished. Dunivan said assessors determine a percentage of completion and levy tax based on that percentage.

The two parcels of land, separated by one lot, total 25 acres and had a combined value of $30,000 in 2007 through 2009, according to assessment records. Dunivan said the data collected in Thursday's survey will be calculated into 2010 assessment notices being mailed out at the end of the month.

It's too soon to estimate how much the structures will increase the taxes due, Dunivan said.

The cabins are the size of large homes rather than the average backcountry cabin, but square footage estimates were not immediately available.

Local real estate broker, Claus Steigler, said most cabins in the area are closer to the 500-square-foot range. Because they are in a hard to reach area, they generally sell for only $40,000 to $60,000, including the land.

One large log cabin reachable by road is listed at $229,000, but it's still on the market after two years, Steigler said.


Daily News reporter Rindi White in Wasilla contributed to this story.

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