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Council approves lobbying agreement

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Staff Writer | December 31, 2022 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — Sandpoint City Council approved an agreement with the city of Ketchum for participation in lobbying efforts for Idaho resort cities.

The 5-0 vote clears the way for a $2,500 payment to the southern Idaho city for participation in the Idaho Resort Cities Coalition.

Among the goals identified by RCC for the upcoming legislative session are protection of current resort cities' local option taxing authority, regulation of short-term rentals, and measures to increase workforce housing. The coalition also hopes to pursue legislation on a modest expansion of liquor licenses for resort cities, teaming up with Idaho Transportation Department officials on transit issues.

Another key priority is the exploration of ways to keep resort cities eligible for local option taxes as they approach the 10,000 population cap.

The RCC is comprised of 19 cities in Idaho with significant tourist industries. By banding together, Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad said the group can more effectively put its concerns and wishes before state officials and legislators.

The demands of tourism can place a strain on services, and having the ability to put a local option tax before voters is critical to being able to offset some of those costs, Rognstad said.

With the city's population likely to exceed that cap before the next census count, Rognstad said the issue is a pressing one for the city. Because taxing authority is increasingly scrutinized by the Idaho Legislature, "there's always a threat that that can be changed or even eliminated," he added.

When the city broached their concern to the Association of Idaho Cities, Rognstad said it felt like the group was avoiding taking action because of the attention the issue draws among many in the Legislature.

When the city of Sandpoint sought either an extension of the 10,000 population cap for resort cities, or a grandfather clause, in order to be able to keep its LOT taxing authority, Rognstad said it felt the city was out there on its own. That speaks, he added, to the general concern and potential fear that many cities in the state have regarding the threat to local option taxing authority in the Legislature.

"The RCC is ready and willing to kind of take that battle head on and make sure that we're protecting that LOT, not just for the city of Sandpoint but for the future resort cities in Idaho," he said.

With the need for regulation of short-term rentals and workforce housing, Rognstad said the coalition will be an invaluable resource during the legislative session.

As both issues continue to garner attention, Rognstad told the council there is a greater potential for the Legislature to take action — and potentially in ways that could negatively impact the city.

Liquor license expansion is a key issue for some in the coalition, with Rognstad pointing to Driggs and the impact tourism has on the small community. The same is true for being able to work with ITD officials on transportation initiatives important to resort communities, he said.

For Sandpoint, the local option tax — and being able to remain eligible as it approaches the population cap — is the most critical issue that the RCC consultant is being tasked with, Rogstad said.

"I think we're one of two cities that are pushing that 10,000 population threshold; we will pass that threshold, undoubtedly with the next census," Rognstad said. "And that's really going to put our local option tax in jeopardy and certainly the ability for us to pass any future local option tax, so I think it's critical that we mobilize the RCC, if nothing else, to help us get some traction in the Legislature to protect our local option taxing authority here."

The upcoming Idaho legislative session, which kicks off Jan. 9, marks the second year for the coalition. While the group got off to a slow start, Rognstad told the council that the group is better organized and gives the city and its fellow resort cities a voice when legislation is being discussed that could significantly impact them.

"I think that this is a strong group that's growing and becoming more effective," Rognstad told council members at the Dec. 21 meeting. "I really like where it's going and how the issues that this group is focusing on are really important to Sandpoint, and I think it's money well spent."