Thursday, September 23, 2021
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Local option tax supports affordable, accessible quality of life

| August 26, 2021 1:00 AM

In this issue, I discuss how the local option tax can be used to support quality of life through investment in public spaces that serve everyone.

I recognize that this topic can sound tone deaf right now, in the pandemic era amid a housing crisis. However, parks and open space that are accessible and designed to serve the whole community offer affordable recreation and quality of life that is important for everyone’s health, well-being and happiness. Quality of life supports economic opportunity and success. As a community, we should continue to invest our resources in public spaces even while we are focused on other important issues like housing and public health.

In 2015, voters approved the 1% local option tax with 73% of the vote. The voters overwhelmingly approved the tax to rebuild War Memorial Stadium, the field and make other improvements at the park. The city leveraged the tax dollars to bring in an additional $700,000 in outside grant funding. The LOT expired in 2020 and the War Memorial Field, stadium, parking lot and boat launch area are now complete, fulfilling the city’s commitment to the voters.

The LOT is an important funding tool for resort communities. Each year many thousands of people come to Sandpoint to enjoy city beach, our parks and services. Yet, aside from some user fees, visitors don’t contribute to their maintenance or improvement of city facilities. The LOT provides a means for visitors to share in a substantial portion of the cost of city services without increasing property taxes on residents.

In September of 2020, the city passed its first comprehensive Parks and Recreation Master Plan. The plan was borne out of the city’s most successful public engagement effort to date. It included 17 public meetings, two public forums, 67 stakeholder interviews and over 1100 community surveys submitted by the public before the plan was adopted by City Council last September.

The plan casts a bold vision for Sandpoint’s parks system. Now we need to develop the funding mechanism to implement the plan. A new LOT, modeled after the 2015 1% tax, is the best funding mechanism available. It spreads the cost across all users, not just residents, and grows over time.

The plan envisions a trail network and low impact recreation in the city’s 4,000 acres that is the Little Sand Creek Watershed. It envisions a sports complex that serves more users for more of the year. It envisions a more integrated system that can accommodate tournament play for youth sports while serving a more diverse range and age of users.

For me, the most exciting element in the plan is a new vision for the downtown waterfront. City Beach will be activated year round, offer an incredible venue for events, improved boat launch, parking and moorage. The plan envisions at Farmin’s Landing an active waterfront plaza with improved access, storm water management, landscaping and improved parking. On the east side, the plan envisions the Carousel of Smiles and a boardwalk that extends along Sand Creek, under the bridge and connects to City Beach.

While the community’s vision of an active waterfront plaza is clearly called for in the plan, the current zoning code is an obstacle because it doesn’t allow for improvements within 25 feet of the high water mark. In an effort to move the project forward, the Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing to consider amendments to the code on Sept. 7.

If a LOT were approved in November, it could raise $1.5 million in the first year and likely grow each year thereafter. The tax dollars could be dedicated exclusively to the purpose approved by voters. That money can be leveraged to bring in other funding through grants.

The city is posting a survey — bit.ly/3mMIf9F — and it goes live on Friday. I invite everyone to complete the survey and tell us whether you support putting a LOT on the ballot and how the city could best invest the tax dollars it generates. Should the city focus on investing in improved access to existing parks? More waterfront access? Or perhaps more land that can be used to facilitate better connectivity and even leverage new workforce housing — opportunities.

On Sept. 15, the City Council will consider language for a new LOT to be placed on the November ballot. We need your help to determine how the LOT can best be used to implement the parks master plan and improve quality of life in Sandpoint.

Please join me at the Mayor’s Roundtable this Friday, 4-5 p.m., at the Council Chambers in City Hall to discuss this and other issues important to Sandpoint. You can now participate remotely on Zoom (bit.ly/3BaUjVY) or watch the recording on the city’s YouTube channel (bit.ly/3sKUuo2).

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