Friday, December 03, 2021
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Local option tax allows non-residents pay their fair share

| October 28, 2021 1:00 AM

Next Tuesday, Nov. 2, Sandpoint voters have the opportunity to approve Sandpoint’s 1% local option tax. This tax, like the one passed by Ponderay voters last year, is a 1% sales tax on all sales in the city of Sandpoint.

It is modeled closely after the 1% local option tax that was approved by Sandpoint voters in 2015 for improvements at War Memorial Field. Sandpoint residents have demonstrated that public investment in quality of life is a top priority. Passing the Memorial Field Tax with 73% of the vote in 2015 exemplified that. The tax raised $7 million over five years and expired in 2020.

The city used those tax dollars to leverage another $700,000 in grant funding and fulfilled its commitment to voters rebuilding the grandstands and replacing the field. The project was completed on time and under budget. With the additional funding, the city added more boat and event parking, added new restrooms at the boat launch, added a non-motorized boat launch as well as landscape and access improvements. The new field now gets 5 times as much play as the original, dramatically improving playability throughout the year and creating more access for more user groups. City Council wants to build on that success in bringing this ballot initiative to the voters.

Improvements to parks infrastructure, along with all city services, are borne by property owners within the city. Infrastructure is expensive, and it is used by everyone who comes to Sandpoint, including county residents, residents of neighboring cities and visitors from a neighboring county or state. Many people who call Sandpoint home live outside of city limits yet still work, shop and recreate in Sandpoint. They use the streets, parks, and other city services. Yet only property owners within city limits pay for those services. Because this is unfair to local residents, the local option tax was established by the Idaho legislature to bring fiscal balance and fairness to resort cities who are burdened with providing services for far more people than their tax base can support. The LOT enables non-city residents and visitors to contribute their fair share of the cost of city services and infrastructure.

We learned from the Memorial Field tax that for every dollar collected through the LOT, 85 cents comes from non-city residents. This gives residents incredible leverage to make investments in city infrastructure far beyond what would be possible if costs were not shared across all users.

Residents recognize that quality of life is not just about a health, access to recreation, open space and mobility. It is also about economic vitality and resilience. Sandpoint takes pride in the extraordinarily diversified economy, high prevalence of entrepreneurship and good employment opportunities that make this community unique compared to similar rural towns across Idaho. Job creators come here because of the quality of life and amenities that Sandpoint can offer. Making thoughtful investments in quality of life is the best investment Sandpoint can make to continue to attract good jobs and improve access to recreation, open space and mobility.

The LOT on the ballot next Tuesday, if passed, will raise $13 million over 7 years. It will be used to fund implementation of the Parks and Recreation Master Plan (PRMP) that was approved last summer. The PRMP was the most robust public engagement effort the city has ever undertaken. It included 17 public meetings, a public forum, 67 community stakeholder interviews and 1200 surveys from citizens.

The top priorities identified in the plan and supported by a follow up public survey in August include City Beach, the downtown waterfront, and the sport complex at memorial field. The tax collected from the LOT will be used on these priorities. In addition, $200,000 per year will be dedicated to sidewalk improvements which is five times the city’s current budget. This will enable the city to build 33 blocks of sidewalk a year focused on priority routes to significantly improve walkability and access to important destinations like schools, library and parks. There is also some flexibility built into the ballot measure so the city can use funds to purchase additional open space or make other investments in accordance with the PRMP.

Please join me for the Mayor’s Roundtable this Friday at 4pm, at Sandpoint Community Hall, 204 S. 1st Ave., to discuss this issue and other topics important to the city of Sandpoint. You can also participate on Zoom at bit.ly/3BpVbFQ.