Ponderay seeking local option tax

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PONDERAY — Recreation and public access to the lake are top priority for the city of Ponderay.

With two big projects in the works, city officials are looking to voters for funding with a local option tax initiative to hit the ballot in November.

“There is big stuff on the horizon here for our little city,” said Ponderay Mayor Steve Geiger.

City Council members approved the ballot language for the local option tax on Aug. 5. If passed, the tax will help fund the city’s Field of Dreams and railroad underpass projects over the course of five years. While it is a 1-percent additional tax to goods and services within the city, it would not apply to hotels or purchases larger than $999.99. Therefore, if someone purchased a brand new car from one of the Ponderay businesses, the additional tax would not apply.

“We want to try to do a local option tax that isn’t going to hurt large-purchase sale ticket items … trying to capture the tax on the smaller amount to minimize the impact,” Geiger said.

While there is no way to determine exactly how much money the tax would generate, Geiger guessed it could be around $2 million per year.

The city acquired the 50-acre “Field of Dreams” property — formerly known as “McGhee Sports Complex” — on Highway 95 in 2011. Due to field conditions and cost of development, the property has remained largely untouched over the years. Last year, however, the LOR Foundation awarded the city $100,000 planning grant for the property, with an additional $400,000 possible depending on the outcome of the planning.

In surveys and talking to people in the community, some of the most popular ideas include an indoor field house, hockey, indoor walking tracks, tennis and soccer among others, Geiger said. There is a lot of interest, he said, in getting a community center out there for people of all ages.

“It really boils down to money,” Geiger said. “We need infrastructure and these facilities are very expensive.”

Geiger said development of the Field of Dreams could also help the northern part of the city in getting the infrastructure to aid in expansion and residential development, as the sewer is the biggest issue in that area.

Improvements and construction of infrastructure at the Field of Dreams would likely happen over time in a phased approach, Geiger said.

Concern was raised by one community member during the July 15 council meeting over whether there were multiple efforts between different groups and the cities of Sandpoint and Ponderay for a recreation facility. Sandpoint had hoped to purchase the 77-acre University of Idaho property to put a recreation facility such as a YMCA in. However, about the same time it came about that funding for the property would not be feasible for the city, the YMCA purchased Sandpoint West Athletic Club.

Geiger said he has been in contact with various groups and committees as well, and all are aware of the Field of Dreams effort.

Several community members in attendance at the July meeting were in favor of the city running a local option tax for the improvements, particularly the waterfront access, which would require a railroad underpass to connect the city not only to Lake Pend Oreille, but also the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail. As the 1.4-mile trail is situated between the lake and two railroad tracks, the only safe crossing is at Bridge Street in Sandpoint.

City planner Erik Brubaker said the city submitted a grant application in July for the project to help with the funding as well.

“I think we made a really good case for the need in our community, and the disparity between the communities who have access to their lake and communities who don’t,” Brubaker said.

Per the ballot that voters will see in November, the anticipated revenue would be used for lake access, safe public access to Lake Pend Oreille and the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail, a new railroad undercrossing, Field of Dreams development of the park and regional recreation facility, property and infrastructure development of the projects, as well as administrative costs.

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

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