The local option tax supports an affordable and accessible quality of life
In this issue, I discuss how the local option tax can be used to support quality of life by investing in public spaces that serve everyone.
I recognize that this topic may seem deaf at this time, in the era of the pandemic in the midst of a housing crisis. However, parks and open spaces that are accessible and designed to serve the entire community provide affordable recreation and a quality of life important to the health, well-being and happiness of all. Quality of life supports economic opportunity and success. As a community, we must continue to invest our resources in public spaces even as we focus on other important issues like housing and public health.
In 2015, voters approved the 1% local option tax with 73% of the vote. Voters overwhelmingly approved the tax to rebuild the War Memorial Stadium, the grounds, and make other improvements to the park. The city leveraged taxpayer dollars to get an additional $ 700,000 in outside grants. 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 voters.
The LOT is an important fundraising tool for resort communities. Each year, thousands of people come to Sandpoint to enjoy the city beach, our parks and our services. However, apart from certain user fees, visitors do not contribute to their maintenance or to the improvement of the city’s facilities. The LOT allows visitors to share a substantial portion of the cost of city services without raising property taxes for residents.
In September 2020, the city adopted its first comprehensive parks and recreation master plan. The plan grew out of the city’s most successful public engagement effort to date. It included 17 public meetings, two public forums, 67 stakeholder interviews and more than 1,100 community surveys submitted by the public before the plan was adopted by city council last September.
The plan presents a bold vision for the Sandpoint park system. We now need to develop the financial mechanism to implement the plan. A new LOT, modeled on the 1% tax of 2015, is the best funding mechanism available. It distributes the cost among all users, not just residents, and increases over time.
The plan envisions a network of trails and low-impact recreational activities within the city’s 4,000-acre Little Sand Creek watershed. He envisions a sports complex that serves more users for more of the year. It envisions a more integrated system that can host tournaments for youth sports while serving a more diverse range and age of users.
For me, the most exciting part of the plan is a new vision for the downtown waterfront. City Beach will be active year round, offering an incredible venue for events, an improved boat launch, parking and mooring. The plan envisions Farmin’s Landing an active waterfront plaza with improved access, stormwater management, landscaping and improved parking. On the east side, the plan contemplates the Carousel of Smiles and a boardwalk that stretches along Sand Creek, under the bridge, and connects to City Beach.
While the community’s vision of an active waterfront place is clearly called for in the plan, the current zoning code is a hindrance as it does not allow improvements within 25 feet of the high water mark. In order to move the project forward, the Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing to consider the code changes on September 7.
If a LOT were approved in November, it could raise $ 1.5 million in the first year and likely grow every year thereafter. Taxpayer money could be spent exclusively on the goal approved by voters. This money can be used to provide other funding through grants.
City publishes poll – bit.ly/3mMIf9F – and it will be uploaded on Friday. I invite everyone to take the survey and tell us if you are in favor of 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 improving access to existing parks? More access to the waterfront? Or maybe more land that can be used to facilitate better connectivity and even take advantage of new housing for the workforce – opportunities.
On September 15, city council will consider the formulation of a new LOT to be entered in the November ballot. We need your help in determining how LOT can best be used to implement the Parks Master Plan and improve the quality of life at Sandpoint.
Please join me at the Mayor’s Roundtable this Friday from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. in City Hall Council Chamber to discuss this and other issues of importance 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 contacted at [email protected]