Lunch with the Mayor: An open invitation to the public

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This article is the last installment of a four-part series through October describing my goals and priorities as mayor of Sandpoint. Those are: 1) Engage the public to address community concerns 2) Improve the local economy. 3) Sustain quality of life for Sandpoint residents 4) Keep Sandpoint affordable.

Priority No. 4: Keep Sandpoint Affordable

I moved here in 1999, built a garden and a 150-foot off-grid cabin in the woods. Half of my $700/month income went toward my mortgage. Most of my time went into the homestead. I aspired to be like others here, resourceful and gritty. One doesn’t have to make a lot of money to live a good life in Sandpoint. But, we must be smart and adaptable if we want to keep it that way.

Tourism is great for local business, particularly those in the service related industries. Being “too desirable,” however, impacts affordability. We have seen this story played out in nearly every successful mountain town in the west over the last several decades: Vale, Sun Valley, etc. Housing is the single greatest expense for most families. When housing prices become inflated, other costs of living follow. Land use policy has tremendous influence on housing affordability. By keeping housing costs affordable, we will avoid the fate that has befallen nearly every other successful resort community.

The city does this by encouraging increased density. Increased density provides more housing to support job growth, it creates more housing choices which translates to more affordability for all income levels, owners and renters, and it reduces the city’s cost to provide services. It requires less miles of streets and utilities, snow removal, police, fire and other city services to service the same number of units. Density also reduces transportation costs for residents and creates a more active streetscape, a vibrant community and a healthy economy.

Upon completion of our updated zoning codes in 2012, a number of the changes allow for greater density citywide. Single-family neighborhoods allow for accessory dwelling units (ADUs). Minimum lot size was reduced by 50 percent. The multi-family zone allows for more units per lot. Commercial zones provide development bonuses for residential development above or behind commercial uses. Now the city is working to ensure workforce housing is considered in future development of the North Boyer area.

Sandpoint is defining itself as more than a tourist town. It has depth. It has an increasingly diversified economy and knack for innovation. It has historical character, beauty and a tremendous quality of life. So far, it is still affordable. My goal is to encourage more adaptive and creative land use policies and development which support workforce housing, bolsters the economy and maintains affordability for all homeowners and renters.

Other areas where the city can impact cost of living include utilities, fees, and efficiencies in service delivery. On the campaign trail I often heard residents concerned that utility costs are too high. It is true that Sandpoint’s water and sewer rates are higher than typical for many cities. There are good reasons for this. We have not one but two groundwater sources, Sand Creek Plant and the Lake Plant. Surface water requires a higher level of treatment than an underground aquifer or well. Redundant infrastructure comes with a cost. Rate-payers are currently paying off two bonds, one for the lake plant and one for the wastewater plant. Fortunately, the city refinanced the sewer bond last year saving rate-payers a million dollars while reducing our payoff period by five years. The city also reduced water and sewer hook-up fees by half in 2016. This has the dual effect of saving money and encouraging more development where the savings are passed on to renters and buyers.

We all want affordability. Affordability impacts our quality of life, our economy and enables prosperity for all.

Today is the first “Lunch With The Mayor” informal meeting to be held on the last Thursday of the month. It will be held from 12-1 p.m. at the Cedar Street Bistro in the Cedar Street Bridge. I welcome all to join me to discuss the local economy, quality of life, affordability and other issues of local concern.

Shelby Rognstad is the mayor of Sandpoint. He can be reached at mayor@sandpointidaho.gov.

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