Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Coalition of resort counties recommended

Michael wants county LOT, impact fees

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County Commissioner Sarah Michael hopes to create an Idaho Resort Counties Coalition that could put its political muscle into tackling problems common to resort areas.

Michael announced her intent during last week's community housing forum, organized by the Ketchum-based Advocates for Real Community Housing.

In an interview, Michael said such a coalition could help resort county governments share information and represent their interests at the Legislature.

She has drawn up a questionnaire to send to officials in resort counties. Potential areas of concern listed on the questionnaire include rising property taxes, affordable housing, growth management, development impact fees and a county local-option tax.

Michael said she is sending the questionnaire to Valley and Adams counties, which include McCall, Brundage Mountain and the new Tamarack Resort; and Kootenai and Bonner counties in northern Idaho, which include Coeur d'Alene and Sandpoint; Teton County, which includes Grand Targhee ski area; and neighboring Custer and Camas counties.

Michael said she hopes the questionnaire will help the officials draw up a list of priorities during the Idaho Association of Counties meeting in September.

Michael said she would like to see Blaine County be able to levy a local-option tax, which is a sales tax on tourism-related items and building materials, and assess development impact fees. She said money raised through those methods could reduce property taxes and fund affordable housing and public transportation.

Under current state law, cities have some leeway in how to use LOT money, but counties can enact a local-option tax only to pay for jail construction.

"I'd like to have the flexibility that they have in Wyoming, where it's up to the voters," she said.

Development impact fees are assessed on a developer to pay for that development's share of municipal services. However, state law does not permit local governments to use that money to fund affordable housing, public transportation or schools.

Michael said another state law affecting fast-growing counties allows developers of new subdivisions to buy agricultural land and to continue to pay property tax at the agricultural rate until they build.

"We have tons of these subdivisions coming in," she said. "What this does is to put the tax burden not on the people who are causing the problem (of higher property values) but on the existing property owners."

During a housing forum presentation on Wednesday, June 22, government officials from Valley and Adams counties expressed support for Michael's proposed coalition.

With the recent development of Tamarack Resort, Valley County has been experiencing a "feeding frenzy" in real estate sales, said John Blaye, the county's economic development coordinator.

Valley County Commissioner Frank Eld said in an interview that many parcels there are bought for speculation rather than development, thereby pushing prices up without adding any housing. He said local governments and businesses are already having a hard time finding employees.

"Look at Blaine County, I've told people—this is our county in 10 years. If we don't address this today, we will have the same problems."

"None of us has ever dealt with this before," he said. "If we could share information, just like we did here, we could get ahead of the curve on some of these things."

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