Which Polson Street do you think is the worst in terms of overall poor quality, public safety risk, and lack of sidewalks? This question was posted on the leader’s Facebook page last week. The most frequently mentioned streets included Fourth Avenue East, Third Avenue East, and 11th Street. However, by far the most common answer was, “LOL. All of them.”
Members of the Polson City Commission agree that the city’s streets are a major problem. Road improvement projects are listed as a top priority in the city’s latest long-term strategic plan, which was adopted in 2018.
“The number one complaint I’ve heard from Polson citizens since I became mayor is the overall poor condition of many of our city’s streets,” Mayor Paul Briney said this week. “To find out how bad our roads are, you only have to drive around town for 15 to 20 minutes.”
While the diagnosis is obvious, the cure is far from.
The city’s general fund simply cannot cover the cost of rebuilding the city’s streets.
“Our general fund only has $ 400,000 in that budget and a city block costs $ 335,000 to build,” Ward 3 commissioner Brodie Moll said Monday.
When looking for a financing solution, the city’s staff identified three main options: a road maintenance tax, a special improvement district, or a resort tax. The commissioners opted for the resort tax option and unanimously voted for a special election in September to let Polson’s voters decide. The election is scheduled for February 2, and the county polling station sent out ballots this week.
A road maintenance levy would create a tax paid only by non-exempt property owners in the city. A residential property with a taxable market value of $ 200,000 would pay $ 155.28 annually, according to the city.
A specific improvement district would need to be approved and paid for by the district owners. Essentially, the neighborhoods would have to band together and agree to pay to repair their streets, which is an estimated cost of $ 335,000 per block. According to the city, “If there is an average of 10 properties in a block, each property is responsible for repaying the SID for $ 33,500 plus interest. Assuming a 4% interest rate over 20 years, the SID rating would be $ 2,449 per year. “
The only option the city has considered requiring anyone other than property owners to contribute to road projects is the resort tax – an option that has been decidedly rejected by Polson’s voters in the past. The current proposal envisages a 3% resort tax on a range of goods and services for 20 years. The city has created a list of recommended luxuries and excluded items available at tinyurl.com/yyoqmmlg.
Among those who have voted against in the past has been Mayor Briney, who says he came to see the resort tax as the best option in town.
“There was an earlier attempt to pass the resort tax in Polson, but it failed by a large margin. I was one who voted against because the income from the tax would have been paid into the general fund at that point and I felt that there would be no clear direction as to where that additional funds would be spent. In collaboration with the Economic Development Council, it was decided to use the resort’s tax revenue, if passed, specifically for road repairs. “
The EDC recommended the current version of the tax, with most of the revenue – 80 percent – going to the maintenance and improvement of streets in the city, while 17 percent was returned to city residents through a property tax refund. The remaining 3 percent would cover the administration fees associated with the tax.
The reimbursement of property tax is required by law. According to the city, a residential property with a taxable market value of $ 200,000 would have a discount of $ 33.
Briney said it wasn’t a difficult choice after doing the research and looking at other communities that had approved a resort tax.
“There aren’t many options when it comes to financing road repairs other than taxing each owner. We saw the resort tax as a way to share some of the burden with those who use the infrastructure but don’t pay city taxes. ”
When the commissioners had to vote to put the resort tax issue back to voters, no members spoke out against it.
“I’m not usually the one in charge of a tax,” Ward 2 commissioner Tony Isbell said ahead of the September 9 vote. “With all the ways we can improve the roads … I support them.”
“Someone is going to fall into a hole in one of our streets,” said Jan Howlett, Ward 1 Commissioner. “I don’t want that to happen. I don’t want to see that. Polson needs sidewalks and good roads. “
“It’s a way for everyone to help,” said Lou Marchello, Commissioner of Ward 1. “I think it’s a very fair and just tax.”
The city estimates a resort tax would raise about $ 700,000 each year. If approved, it will take effect July 1st.
As part of an effort to keep voters informed, the city has created a section of its website cityofpolson.com to provide tax information. Access is via the Resort Tax Initiative tab on the home page. It contains an FAQ section as well as additional details about the elections and links to online presentations.
City administrator Ed Meece and other city officials have also been running public information forums since early November. This included presentations to service groups and business associations as well as events for the general public. The last public forum is scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m. All public forums were held remotely via Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic precautions. Links to the Tuesday forum and an accompanying PDF presentation can be found on the city’s website.