Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Does county need more tax options?

Chamber conducts survey to gauge support for four concepts

Express Staff Writer

The Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau is trying to gauge regional support for four state-level legislative concepts that have increasingly been billed as possible solutions to problems in Blaine and other Idaho counties.

The chamber this month sent surveys to all of its 580 members asking if they support any or all of the tax- and fee-related proposals.

At issue are four legislative initiatives that have come to the forefront of numerous discussions among local leaders and the region's three state representatives, Sen. Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, and Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding. The concepts, some of which could be considered in future sessions of the Idaho Legislature, are:

· A real estate sales price disclosure.

· A county local-option real estate transfer tax.

· A county local option retail sales tax.

· Expanded development impact fees.

"These are things that have been on our radar screen for quite some time," said Carol Waller, executive director of the chamber. "It's been in our strategic plan for about three years, how we can help move these issues along. But we have a policy that we survey our members and gauge support before we take any position."

Indeed, the four issues have been gaining steam in Blaine County. Jaquet said the survey will help her and other elected leaders determine how hard they might push for some of the reforms.

At this point, none of the proposals has gained serious momentum among the Legislature's majority. Despite that, Waller said, the timing is right to start discussing the issues.

"We want to start a public dialogue now, even if the Legislature does not get behind them right away," she said.

All of the proposals could potentially have significant impacts on Blaine County and its residents.

A real estate sales price disclosure law would essentially require parties to real estate sales to disclose the final sales price to the county, which could presumably then use the figures to better assess property values. Idaho is one of only three states in the country to not require a real estate sales price disclosure. Some believe the state's lack of such a law leads to inequalities in property taxes paid by property owners.

A county local-option real estate transfer tax, used by 37 of the 50 states, is considered a way for Blaine County to raise funds for specific high-priority projects. The concept calls for allowing counties to implement a voter-approved tax on real estate sales to pay for things such as community housing, transportation projects or land acquisition. The tax could be structured in a variety of ways to target certain types of sales. The chamber has estimated that a 1 percent transfer tax on Blaine County real estate sales over $1 million in 2004 would have raised about $4 million.

A county local option retail sales tax, used by 32 states, would allow counties—with voter approval—to apply an as-yet-undetermined sales tax on retail items, in addition to the existing city local option taxes and the state sales tax. It could be used for projects that would benefit the entire county, such as transportation projects or workforce housing.

A new law allowing expanded development impact fees would essentially allow local governments to collect impact fees on new developments for things such as affordable housing and public transportation projects. Currently, state law limits collection of development impact fees to offset the impacts of new development on fire departments, police departments, parks and recreation.

The survey will come to a close on Friday, Dec. 16, at which time the results will be compiled.

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