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Polson commission approves putting resort tax on ballot

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POLSON – After years of research and debate, the Polson City Commission voted unanimously to place a three percent resort tax on the ballot for a special election, slated for Jan. 21. The motion was approved during the commission’s regular meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 9.

City finance officer Cindy Dooley walked the council through the final proposal, which would impose a three percent resort tax on luxury items, including dining, beverages, lodging and a variety of retail items. It excludes groceries, medicine and medical supplies and services, appliances, hardware supplies and tools, and other “necessities of life.”

Dooley said a conservative estimate, based on information from the Department of Revenue, suggests that the tax would raise approximately $700,000 annually, with 17 percent going to a property-tax rebate, and the remainder dedicated to street repair and reconstruction. The city engineer estimates that it costs $335,000 to reconstruct one city block. 

Voters handily defeated an earlier version of the resort tax in 2009, and a second attempt to place it on the ballot was voted down by commissioners in 2016. The new ballot measure, unlike its predecessors, dedicates the majority of funds to street repair – an oft-cited priority of Polson residents.

Several commissioners expressed their support prior to the vote. 

“We have looked at this for a long time,” said Lou Marchello, former mayor and owner of the Crow’s Nest Gallery on Main Street. He noted that visitors to his store – especially those from out of state – expect to pay a tax. 

“It’s a very fair and equitable tax,” he added. “I’m in favor of it.”

Commissioner Bob Martin praised it as “the most economical way with the least impact on the community of Polson to repair and rebuild our streets.” Ultimately, he added, “I believe this is something the citizens of Polson should vote on. They’re the ones that know if they want to have better streets.” 

In a somewhat testy exchange, Polson resident Murat Kalinyaprak objected to the estimate of how much money the tax would generate and asserted that commissioners don’t understand regressive taxation. “You’re going to complicate everyone’s life in the area,” he said. “It’s a mess.” 

Mayor Paul Briney noted that, as a government teacher for 36 years, he was well-schooled on regressive taxes, “so don’t throw us all under the bus.”

He also pointed out that Wednesday’s vote simply gave “citizens of Polson an opportunity to determine whether they want this tax or not.” 

Ken Avison: Strong supporter of education

In other business, Briney offered his condolences to the family of Ken Avison, a former teacher, school superintendent and co-owner of the popular Cove Deli, who died Aug. 26 after repeated bouts with cancer. 

“He was a man of many talents, but the thing I’ll always remember about Ken was his strong support of education and the schools – not just sports, but all the students, all the staff,” said Briney.

“My first memory of him was walking out of one of my first-day teacher meetings and there was Ken in the hall with a big smile on his face, handing out fudgesicles,” added the mayor. “He did a thousand things like that … He will be missed. “

Winds damage Riverside dock

Interim city manager Wade Nash reported that a big windstorm on Labor Day shoved “a tremendous amount of water” under the dock at Riverside Park, nearly dislodging a 2,000-3,000-pound slab of cement. Due to public safety concerns, the dock is closed until further notice, although the park remains open. The storm surge also washed away some of the park’s shoreline protection. Nash said the city has submitted a damage report to its insurance carrier.

Polson benefits from LCCD partnership

Marie Hirsch of Lake County Community Development gave a year-end report on LCCD’s partnership with the city of Polson. The Ronan-based organization oversees a variety of economic development projects in Lake, Sanders and Mineral counties. 

In her presentation, Hirsch highlighted activities pertaining to Polson, including: 

• Of 104 regional businesses that received COVID-19-related assistance, 50 were located in Polson; 

• Of 211 clients who received one-on-one technical assistance, 87 or 41 percent were Polson clients;

• Of the 15 loans made to new or expanding businesses in FY 2020, six went to Polson businesses, which claimed a total of $711,283 or 53 percent of the total funds awarded. 

LCCD also provides technical assistance to the Polson Redevelopment Agency, which administers tax increment financing (TIF) funds to local businesses. Jim Thaden, executive director of LCCD, noted that the organization has been “busy building up our loan funds over the course of this summer and into this fall.”

“We anticipate that this winter into next spring, we are going to see a lot of retail-oriented businesses that are going to need working capital support, encouragement and technical assistance to get through to next summer,” he said. “We’ve been building these funds and anticipate this, and we’re ready to go.”

House District 12 candidate

Gerry Browning, a candidate for House District 12, introduced herself to the council. As a nurse for three decades who launched two Main Street businesses in Polson, Browning emphasized her first-hand understanding of healthcare issues and small business. 

“People might call me cheap – I call myself fiduciarily responsible,” she said. As a small business owner who also served as treasurer for several organizations, “I know how to stick to a budget,” she said. “I work hard at earning money, saving it and spending it wisely.”  

City manager hired

The commissioners unanimously approved the hiring of Edwin Meece as Polson’s new city manager. The two-year contract pays a base salary of $84,000 plus benefits and includes a performance review. 

The former Livingston city manager, who currently serves as parking program manager for Bozeman, steps into his new job Oct. 1.  (See related story on page 6.)

The commission and mayor – noting the hiring process “has been kind of a grind” –expressed appreciation to the search committee, the negotiation committee and city staff. They especially praised Polson police chief Wade Nash for “stepping up” and serving as interim city manager for nearly two years. 

“I’ve learned a lot, that’s for sure,” replied Nash.

Commissioner Martin resigns

The commission also accepted the resignation of Bob Martin, who has served as commissioner since July 2017 and is moving to Swan Lake. His term expires in December 2021. 

“Thanks for your effort and expertise, especially when it came to the completion of the waste-water treatment plant,” said Briney. “You were always professional, thoughtful and prepared for the meetings and topics.” 

“I will miss serving on the commission and working with people in Ward 2 and all of the city,” Martin said. 

The city will accept applications for Ward 2 commissioner until 5 p.m. on Oct. 1. Those will be presented at the council meeting on Oct. 5, when commissioners will appoint a replacement to fill out the remainder of Martin’s term, through Dec. 31, 2021. 

Candidates need to be 18 or older, live in Ward 2 and must have resided in the City of Polson for at least one year.

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