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Is Sandpoint a Resort City?

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Voters to decide during general election

Sandpoint’s a tourist town. It’s a phrase you hear all the time and it’s a question that Sandpoint’s City Council is ready to put to the test as they ask voters to approve a Resort City Tax during the November 5th general election.

    “The need to create a new funding source (for the city) is what spurred this effort,” explained city councilwoman Sue Haynes of how the issue came to be on this fall’s ballot. “There are lots of ways cities can increase revenue – we could do an across-the-board sales tax, put a tax on liquor by the drink. Those sources would generate a lot more revenue, but we went with the Resort City tax because it will not impact local residents on a year-round basis.”

    The tax, as this city council has drafted it, charges 5% on hotel and motel occupancy for stays of less than 30 days, including condos in a rental pool, and is anticipated to bring as much as $150,000 additional revenue per year. That revenue will stay right in Sandpoint.

    First year revenues from the tax, if the measure is approved by voters, have been dedicated to the city’s Downtown Improvement Project. “It will be part of a pool to help us attract a $500,000 Economic Block Grant,” Haynes explained. In future years, revenues would go to other Sandpoint projects like improved sidewalks, lighting, street repairs and equipment for lifeguards.

    “This is a very fair and common tax,” Haynes said. “The city would be missing the boat if we were not looking at this seriously.”

    Perhaps the greatest advantage to this tax for the people who will vote on it is that it targets the tourist traffic coming in town, while leaving locals alone. “Tourists have an impact on our community,” said Haynes. “There’s increased need for police and fire, greater impact on our roads. We don’t charge for use of City Beach, don’t charge for use of public boat launches, don’t charge for on-street parking. And we want to keep it that way.” Still, she says, it’s only fair “to find a way for visitors to share in some of those costs. (Those expenses) shouldn’t all be borne by the property tax payer. Right now, we don’t have anything that targets the tourists.”

    City council members also voted to have the new tax, should it be accepted, sunset after five years. At that point, it would be up to local voters to determine if the tax should be renewed. “We put that in to show that we’re obliged to use the dollars generated from the tax responsibly, in ways which are beneficial to our community.” If voters don’t believe that’s happening, they can vote against renewing the tax in 2007.

    In order to be implemented, 60% of the city’s voters must vote in favor of the tax – and to do so, they must vote twice. That’s because state voting regulations require the tax vote to be held at Sandpoint’s City Hall, while voting in the general election will take place at each resident’s normal polling place. “City residents should know they can go down to City Hall at any time from today until Nov. 4th, and request an absentee ballot. They can fill it out right then and there and vote, if that’s what they want to do,” Haynes explained.

    “Nobody likes new taxes,” Haynes added, “but this is a fair one. Most people we talk to are surprised we don’t already have it.”

     The River Journal doesn’t like taxes much either, but this is one we stand behind. Property owners cannot continue to carry the burden of providing all city services to everyone who uses them – especially when those users include a substantial number of visitors. This tax, limited solely to stays of under 30 days in Sandpoint hotels, motels and condos, helps to spread the burden of service and maintenance among all users. We especially appreciate the common sense and willingness to be accountable shown by the city council in their decisions to sunset the tax after five years; dedicate the first year’s funds to the Downtown Improvement Project; and not impose the tax on restaurants, alcohol and downtown shopping, which would impact our local residents. Therefore, we encourage all Sandpoint city residents to make the extra trip to City Hall, and vote YES on Nov. 5th for the Resort City Tax.

 

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Landon Otis

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