Ponderay: Bed tax needed for bus system

28-Oct-2010 Although the vote is exclusive to Ponderay residents, all of Bonner County will be impacted by the success or failure of the balloted bed tax.

A 5-percent tax on short-term stays in hotel rooms, Ponderay officials estimate that it could bring $170,000 annually into the city's coffers. The initiative is the linchpin in securing grant funding for a half-million dollar bus system free to the public and running between Dover, Sandpoint, Ponderay and Kootenai.

"I've heard from a lot of people and businesses that are really hoping for this bus system," Ponderay Mayor Carol Kunzeman said. "Dover has done a terrific job putting this public transportation system together."

Because of its broad impact, businesses and associations across the county are awaiting the outcome of Tuesdays vote. One such organization, Sandpoint Area Lodging and Tourism, expressed its approval of the measure in a letter written by organization chairman Devin Marks.

The right bus system could benefit visitors looking to ski Schweitzer or catch dinner in town without the worry of parking or having a drink. For locals, those conveniences extend to uses for work, shopping, school, and recreation, all at no expense, he said. Convenient transportation would encourage more winter visitors which translates into busier shops, restaurants, and services throughout the valley.

However, the city has not yet published an ordinance specifically detailing how the money will be used.

According to Kunzeman, since they wont be sure they'll even have the money until after the election, they haven't yet issued public policy contingent on it.

If the vote passes, a large chunk of the money during the first year will go to the bus system, she said. After that first year, we wont have to put up nearly as much money, which can then be used on other projects.

Those projects, according to state parameters, must relate to tourism promotion. Under those specifications, Ponderay officials cite improvements to Kootenai Cutoff Road, street repairs and upgrades to park and recreation facilities as additional beneficiaries.

While debating methods of increasing Ponderay's revenue, the City Council considered a variety of options, including a sales tax and a bed and booze tax. An eight year bed tax won the day for bringing money to the community without reaching into its residents pockets. It also had Bonner County precedence in Sandpoint's bed tax, established in 2002.

"We didn't want anyone to feel like they were being penalized for going out and having a drink," Kunzeman said.

But not everyone is happy about the tax. Taxi drivers are concerned about the impact a free bus system will have on their business. Other residents say that they put up visitors at hotels when they don't have space in their own homes.

"There are also people that will see the word tax and simply not have anything to do with it," Kunzeman said.

Kootenai will be hosting the Ponderay city voting to synchronize it with county voting. Because Ponderay falls under the Kootenai voting precinct, public officials determined to hold both city and county votes in one location.

"This way, Ponderay residents can do all their voting in one location," Ponderay city Clerk Su Warren said.

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