Fiscal responsibility pays off for Sandpoint

| July 16, 2020 1:00 AM

Last night, kicked off the 2021 budget process. The Sandpoint City Council set the preliminary budget establishing the maximum level of expenditures that cannot be exceeded after adoption. The electronic budget will be posted to the city’s website by July 17. There will be two workshops inviting public testimony on the budget. The first, on July 22, will focus on performance measures, staffing, maintenance and operations. The second, on July 29, will focus on capital improvement projects and master planning efforts. The Public Hearing and Final adoption are scheduled for the Aug. 19 city council meeting.

Fortunately, the fiscal impact of COVID-19 on the city has been minimal. Though we expect roughly a $40,000 shortfall in our bed tax, our revenues are otherwise minimally affected. There is no anticipated reduction in services. What’s more, the CARES Act offered relief to cities, allowing Sandpoint to cover expenses related to coronavirus such as increased PPE equipment and overtime for first responders. It also enabled significant technology upgrades so we are able to keep city business operational regardless of closures, stay-at-home orders and social distancing protocols. All public meetings are now open for public participation on Zoom and are recorded for viewing on the city’s YouTube channel (subscribe to city of Sandpoint on youtube.com).

Also through the CARES Act, the city is participating in the state’s property tax relief program. The program uses CARES funding to pay public safety personnel. The resulting savings will go to city residents in the form of property tax relief. The city will meet the two conditions required for eligibility in the program: 1) Sandpoint will not raise property taxes in 2021. 2) it will not take the forgone levy from the current fiscal year. The city, through good fiscal stewardship, is in a strong financial position that enables participation in the program without impacting city services.

The 5-year, 1% local option tax expires at the end of this calendar year. The tax was leveraged with several grants and used for the Memorial Field improvements that gave us new grandstands and a new field which should be complete next week. Phase 2 is under design currently and will go out for construction bid at the end of the summer. It includes the new parking lot, boat launch, kayak launch and other amenities. The entire project will be complete in the first half of 2021.

The council last night was presented with a $4.7 million budget reduction from the current fiscal year. Expiration of the 1% tax, along with completion of the downtown streets revitalization, are responsible for the bulk of the budget reduction from last year.

There are several other significant budget items proposed in the 2021 budget. Phase 4 of the fiber optic network in the downtown core will continue bringing high speed, affordable internet access throughout downtown starting with Farmin’s Landing and Bridge Street. For this, the city has carried forward $1.1 million from this fiscal year.

Other capital improvement projects include a half million dedicated to street maintenance, twice the historical average. The Pine Street sidewalk project will be constructed in 2021 with a $430,000 pass-through state grant. Development of Farmin’s Landing on Sand Creek will begin with $400,000 dedicated to stormwater treatment, bank shoring and other preliminary improvements. Big thanks to Avista Utilities for its contribution to the project, which will place all utilities on the site underground.

As the Parks Master Plan is nearing completion, sites turn toward the Little Sandcreek Watershed Plan. The city has dedicated $45,000 toward recreation planning in the watershed. This will begin soon after the environmental assessment is complete this fall. Consistent with last year, another $10,000 will be set aside for trail maintenance in the watershed. Separately, another $50,000 will be set aside for trail improvements citywide.

Lastly, this year the council will consider disposition of several pieces of public property. Most notably is the city-owned Baldy property where the Baldyfoot Disc Golf Course is located. The budget sets aside $200 from the general fund for purchase of the property from the city wastewater utility, its current owner. This would provide needed recreational and open space opportunities on the north side of town which is currently underserved. It would also provide trail connectivity along the city’s western corridor and preserve the disc golf course which has been gifted to Sandpoint by years of hard work, dedication and philanthropy. Thank you Sandpoint Disc Golf Association and all those who have contributed in building this amenity for Sandpoint!

Please join me for the Mayor’s Roundtable to discuss all this and more this Friday, July 17, at 3 p.m. on Zoom: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82502585828?pwd=SnBVVHlyT0dVK0g4bDBQczBQN2t0UT09

You can also watch on Facebook Live through my page, Mayor Shelby Rognstad.

Shelby Rognstad is the mayor of Sandpoint. He can be reached at mayor@sandpointidaho.gov.