State of the city: Resilient

by SHELBY ROGNSTAD Contributing Writer
| October 15, 2020 1:00 AM

Last Thursday I had the privilege of presenting the State of the City address before the Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce at its first in-person luncheon since the pandemic began. I appreciated hearing of the progress in Kootenai and Ponderay from Mayors Nancy Lewis and Steve Geiger. Pack River Store was recognized by the chamber as its business of the month. Pack River Store set a leading example, along with several other local restaurants and the lake Pend Oreille School District, creating a bagged lunch program to make sure that no one went hungry in Sandpoint. The program was so well supported, it continues today.

Despite the unprecedented economic, health and political interruptions brought on by the pandemic, the people of Sandpoint continue to show phenomenal resilience. Businesses have stepped up to feed those in need, citizens have stepped up to make hundreds of masks during the mask shortage early in the pandemic.

The city leveraged CARES Act funding to minimize COVID impact to city budget while saving Sandpoint taxpayers a million dollars in property taxes. Despite the economic shutdown from COVID, business activity for the year remained remarkably strong. Data from local option tax rolls showed over a 4% increase in economic activity over last year. This, along with responsible, effective budgeting means the city maintained levels of service and stayed within budget.

Bonner County’s frivolous lawsuit against the Festival at Sandpoint and the city served as little more than a distraction. The court ruled that the county has no standing, a decisive victory for the city and the Festival. The city has since filed a motion for recovery of attorney’s fees to reimburse Sandpoint taxpayers.

Improvements in administration have continued over the last year as the city continues organizational restructuring and improvements in technology. The contract with Lake City Law was just renewed. Contracting out for legal services proved to be a wise move, saving the city $150K and deepening the range of legal resources available. The city is now contracting for information technology and GIS services. We expect similar results, improved services at a lower cost to taxpayers.

The resulting savings have allowed the city to add positions where needed. The police department has added 2 new community resource officers. These positions improve the city’s response to code enforcement and free up officers to better respond to criminal issues.

Savings from administration restructuring have also allowed for investments in technology, creating efficiencies and improving customer experience. You can now create a utility account, pay a bill, register for a rec program, submit a building permit application, or do any other city transaction through our website.

Notable capital improvements were celebrated this year. Phase 2 of the Downtown Streets Project and the new turf at War Memorial Field were the most significant accomplishments. Phase 3 will see continuation of work on First Avenue south from Church Street and will likely begin in 2022. Other capital projects include significant improvements in wastewater infrastructure that will continue through 2021.

2020 will be known as the city’s master planning year. The city’s first Parks and Recreation MP was approved in August. It represented an impressive degree of public input and participation and resulted in a new vision for City Beach, the downtown waterfront, War Memorial Field, and the sports complex at Travers and Centennial parks. And Environmental Assessment was completed for the Little Sand Creek Watershed and next year a recreation plan will be developed for that 4,000 acres of city-owned forest habitat.

Other master plans nearing completion include the Arts and Culture MP, the city’s first. The Multimodal MP addresses all modes of transportation in and around the city. The Capital Improvement MP plans for infrastructure growth for all city utilities.

The Comprehensive Land Use Plan is also nearing completion. Of all the plans, it has perhaps the greatest influence on how the city manages growth, maintains affordability, quality of life and historical identity. Idaho and this region in particular are continuing to see unprecedented growth. This growth puts strain on all of the city’s resources, its systems, its people. It can change our quality of life, our level of service, our very identity as a community.

The timing of these planning efforts could not have been better. Sandpoint is ready to face the challenges that growth brings. If there is one thing that was made clear over this last year, this community will continue to thrive and remain resilient even under the most difficult circumstances.

Please join me for the Mayor’s Roundtable to discuss all this and more this Friday, Oct. 16, at 4 p.m. on Zoom: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89919017586?pwd=U2JsK2d1S1hqY0lBV2kyUVBSS2VVZz09

Meeting ID: 899 1901 7586 Passcode: 306303

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

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