City of Sandpoint's Number 1 Priority - is 2
Sandpoint’s city council recently held meetings to develop a list of priority projects for the upcoming year. The priority list’s purpose is to keep the council on track for achieving goals, and to give guidance to city staff. Two issues received unanimous support from the city council (Councilors Ray Miller, Michael Boge, Francis Ogilvie, Alison Burgstahler, Cindy Elliott, and Sue Haynes) and Mayor Paul Graves.
Tying for first place - downtown revitalization and a southbound off ramp on the bypass.
The city’s retreat process worked like this: Department heads (City Clerk Helen Newton, City Attorney/Planner Jeff Jones, Treasurer Shannon Syth, Fire Chief Robert Tyler, Recreation Director Kim Woodruff, Public Works director Kody Van Dyk, Police Chief Mark Lockwood, and Parks Director Maurice Dunn) met to determine their list of priorities, projects, or major purchases for departments. The city council and mayor met to develop their own set of priorities. Then the two groups met together to try to mesh the ideas. The Recreation director facilitated the meeting and with a Power Point presentation by our city clerk, the council voted on each topic presented in this way: include the item now, act on it later, or delete it from the list of options. Each person had his or her own pet projects to promote, but the final voting exhibited a concern for long-range benefits to the community.
I started with my own top ten list, some of which made the final cut:
#1. Doing everything we can from a city council perspective to ensure a south-bound off-ramp at the time of construction of the byway. #2. Public bathrooms downtown, as well as follow-through on the Hudson proposal. #3. A resort city tax, to help pay for the above.
#4. Obtaining necessary fire apparatus...(Grant-funding, levy, taxes.) #5. Promoting a friendlier, more accessible city hall and city council by working to incorporate more citizen input. #6. Park improvements: Hickory Street, Dog Park, or allow dog-owners to walk their dogs in parks, skateboard park, working in partnership with the skateboard group. We've put this off too long. #7. Supporting NIC operations. #8. Improved sidewalks throughout town. Enforce existing code requiring sidewalks, LID's, city's own sidewalk needs. #9. Weed control and beautification. #10. More inter-connectedness with all surrounding taxing districts: county, hospital board, library, school district, adjoining city councils, as well as resolution of SIHD problem.
Defining it as a living document, and meant to be seen as a guideline, the council completed it’s priority list. All of these ideas arose in different ways, some with more and some with less public input. The top two are good examples. The southbound off-ramp issue is largely an internal priority from the council, while Downtown revitalization has had months of public input. New ideas and priorities might develop, and will be addressed as they are presented. Whittling away at over 150 ideas on the combined lists, the council identified fourteen items as top priorities (some received tie votes):
#1. Downtown Revitalization/ traffic circulation
#1. Southbound off ramp/ depot
#2. Resort City Tax
#3. Inflow and infiltration mitigation
#4. Downtown restrooms
#4. Impact fees
#4. Memorial Field grandstands
#4. User fees (re-examine all, including UBC)
#5. City Hall—move back downtown
#5. Great Northern road rebuild
#5. Overlay zone for 5th avenue
#5. Consideration of tax increase, foregone amounts, and improved financial information to the council
#5. Sidewalk policy
Council priorities identified as already in progress include: acquisition of necessary fire apparatus; promotion of NIC; weed control and beautification; skateboard park. Our deleted list was re-identified as a priority #3 list and includes a Recreation Center, BMX track, re-location of the wastewater treatment plant, and improving public input.
Funding for the city council’s top priority, downtown revitalization, will be the focus of upcoming meetings of a steering committee, which is currently in the formation stage. Options for this project include LID assessments, city participation, and grant funding. People interested in participating should call Constance Buxton at the Sandpoint Business Association office at 255-1876, or Jeff Jones at 265-1481. Funding sources for this particular project have been clearly identified by the Hudson Report, and details will be developed with more input from all related parties. To see the Hudson Group report in its entirety, go online to SandpointOnline.com and click on "Hudson Group."
Paying for ongoing city operations, as well as trying to improve our town creates a challenge. One funding possibility is some variation of a resort city tax, although voters here have voted down two previous attempts at this tax. The idea behind a resort city tax is to give tourists a way to pay for some necessary city services, instead of placing the entire burden on property taxpayers. A resort city tax could be as simple as assessing a nightly per room fee for hotels/motels, a common practice in many cities. Some places call this a transient tax. Other variations include a per drink charge in bars, and/or a sales tax surcharge on all purchases in the city.
My preference on this taxing option is to have a small surcharge on hotel/motel nightly fees only, creating a revenue stream which would come only from people passing through our town, and not subjecting locals to any additional taxation. Revenue collected from the tax could then be directed to support different projects, including public safety equipment purchases, or downtown revitalization efforts. Investigation of this option will continue, with much public input and discussion, after which the people in town will have the final vote.
Some background on the "foregone" amount: Sandpoint’s council has been able to forego raising property taxes for six consecutive years. Some changes implemented by the council, including expansion of the street department, major park purchases and development, as well as a re-structured employee pay scale have made this practice increasingly difficult to maintain. The cumulative amount that has not been increased each year is referred to as the foregone amount. In Sandpoint’s case, that amounts to approximately $310,000. The council could legally raise taxes the allowed 3%, in addition to the foregone amount, resulting in a property tax increase of 21%! To raise taxes next year, and/or to take any or all of the foregone amount, is a decision the council will be making with the start of a new budget process starting very soon. I believe we have many options to prevent that drastic of a tax increase.