Syth departs, but leaves a financial legacy

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After 16 years as city treasurer, Shannon Syth is retiring as of Wednesday. The public is invited to an open house retirement party from 3-5 p.m. Wednesday in City Council chambers, 1123 Lake St. (Courtesy photo)

SANDPOINT — For 16 years, Shannon Syth has been a driving force behind the scenes of city happenings.

The long-time city treasurer, who announced her retirement last year, will embark on a new adventure as her retirement officially goes into effect at the end of the day Wednesday. With that day quickly approaching, Syth said she has mixed feelings about it.

"I love what I do," Syth said. "It has been a really great, rewarding career for sure."

Syth said she has worked in government since January 1990, so her retirement marks exactly 28 years. Before becoming city treasurer, Syth served as treasurer for Bonner County for about seven years. Prior to that, she worked in the assessor's office. 

Born in Bonners Ferry, Syth is a North Idaho native. Although she lived in Spokane as a kid, she moved back to the area when she was 14 and has been here ever since. She has two daughters who were raised in Sandpoint, one of whom now lives in Walla Walla and the other in Vancouver, she said.

In her 16 years at the city, Syth has worked with six different mayors, many council members, and has seen a lot of changes. Syth said she faced many challenges as treasurer, but that didn't bother her at all.

"I love challenges," she said, her eyes lighting up as she thought of some of the big projects she has found funding for over the years.

Some of those projects, she said, were Jeff Jones Town Square, Pend d'Oreille Bay Trail and Memorial Field. Also, when she first started, Syth did a complete overhaul of finances in order for the city to be in compliance with Government Accounting Standards Board requirements. The deadline had passed when she was hired, she said, so she spent a lot of hours going through about a year of finances each month.

Modest as Syth is, City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton said she would be remiss not bring up the legacy of which Syth will be leaving the city. In 30 years, Stapleton said, people will still look back and see it as one of the most "significant legacies someone has left the city."

What legacy, you ask? Syth saved ratepayers approximately $2 million when she refinanced the city's sewer bond last year.

The original bond, which went through 2027, was for temporary upgrades for the wastewater treatment plant. When an opportunity came up to refinance it, which would lower the interest rate and shorten the term by five years, Syth was all in. But she didn't have much time to do it.

Refinancing typically takes several months, Syth said, but from the time she began working on it, she had everything in order within six weeks. The goal of the refinance, she said, was to get the bond paid before the city needed to incur more debt for a significant wastewater treatment plant project, which is still in the planning phase.

"We won't have to stack debt upon debt, and our rates won't have to be as high as they would have normally," Syth said.  

Stapleton said the accomplishment was overlooked a bit because, well, how interesting is a sewer bond, really? And also, she said, because the city's mayors and council members have always had such confidence in Syth and her abilities that her projects are sometimes taken for granted.

"I hope Shannon leaves knowing, and for our residents, what's really important for them to know, is she has positively impacted every single one of them," Stapleton said.

*****

While Syth said she will miss the challenges, as well as seeing some of the upcoming projects reach fruition, what she will miss most about working at the city is the people.

"If your in public service, you desire serving other people," she said. "So talking to people at the counter, helping people work out a problem or an issue, or getting them to the person who is going to be able to take care of them, as well as working with all the employees and department heads, council members and the mayor. I'm definitely going to miss working with Jennifer."

Stapleton said all of Syth's peers see her retirement as a loss. Syth is "highly respected and admired," she said. And although she has only had the pleasure of working with Syth for the past two years, Stapleton said is going to miss Syth most of all. They would spend hours working together, Stapleton said, usually in the evening after everyone else went home.

Stapleton said Syth has been the one she could always count on. She has been a leader as well, pushing others to get on board with organizational changes.

"It would be so easy for someone who is at the sunset of their career to just say, 'I'm going to ride out my time,' and ride off into the sunset," Stapleton said. "Shannon has been riding against the sun — until next Thursday."

For that past nine months, Syth has been training her replacement, Sarah Lynds.

"It has been great; she is going to be an awesome addition to the city," Syth said. "... I wanted somebody who could take the city to the next level and she is energetic and ready to do it. She has already accomplished a lot, so it was really good that we had that overlap."

Leaving the position of treasurer in the capable hands of Lynds, Syth plans to take three to five years to do something she has always wanted to do.

"I am going to travel around the United States and see everything I've wanted to see," Syth said. "I love nature. I love mountains and rivers and water."

The phase of her life she has dubbed "adventures and relationships" will last three to five years, she said.

"I know I will have fun and I know it's going to be a great adventure for me," she said, adding that there is no place like North Idaho. "So no matter matter where I go, this will always be 'the place.'"

The public is invited to an open house retirement party from 3-5 p.m. Wednesday in City Council chambers, 1123 Lake St. Mayor Shelby Rognstad will make a formal presentation, and former council members and mayors who served with Syth have been invited to share their thoughts as well.

Mary Malone can be reached by email at mmalone@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

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