Ponderay to pursue study on local option tax

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PONDERAY — City Council members voted recently in favor of a study to determine whether Ponderay should pursue a local option tax to further construction of the Pend d'Oreille Bay Trail.

"That has the potential to help raise some significant funds," said Susan Drumheller, president of the Friends of the Pend d'Oreille Bay Trail, during the city's Dec. 19 meeting.

The study would be done by Trust for Public Land, but first, the city is required to submit a letter to the organization inviting them to do the study. If approved, the organization would do public polling and financial research at no cost to the city.

Then, with the information in hand, council members could determine whether they should pursue a ballot measure.

The Pend d'Oreille Bay Trail would ultimately connect the communities of Sandpoint, Ponderay and Kootenai, but the most expensive piece of the project is located in Ponderay. 

The Ponderay connection, which includes construction of a railroad underpass on Third Street, is ranked as the highest priority of all the connections plotted in the finalized master plan for the trail. According to the master plan document, which can be found online at pobt.org, the proposed Ponderay connection includes a primary trailhead and passenger drop-off on the lake side of the railroad tracks and multi-use underpass across from the Harbison property at the south end of Railroad Avenue. On-street parking would be available on the west side of the railroad.

The railroad underpass is located in a drainage gully, and while it is possible to construct the underpass in the gully, it is going to be expensive, Drumheller said. A technical feasibility study is in process to determine the exact cost, although Drumheller said the estimates will not include securing easements from the railroad.

In order to fund projects in the master plan, such as the underpass, the Friends of the Pend d'Oreille Bay Trail plan to apply for a TIGER grant. TIGER, or Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, is a federal grant program that funds projects like trails in rural and urban categories.

Drumheller said in researching past successful TIGER grants, nearly all of them have had "significant" local match of funding.

"I think it just makes it more competitive," Drumheller said.

She said the group could come up with some of the matching funds, but asked the mayor and City Council members to consider the possibility of a local option tax to help fund the project. Drumheller said due to a failed ballot measure by the city a couple years ago, she thought some research ahead of time would "help determine whether this is a wise thing to pursue or not."

"If it doesn't look like it is something the community would support, we would come up with a plan B," Drumheller said.

Mayor Steve Geiger said he has been down the local option tax road twice in Ponderay and it is a "tough road."

Although Geiger and council members were skeptical about a local option tax, it was decided no harm would come from doing some research on the matter, so the motion passed unanimously to pursue the study.

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