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Look who pays for quality of life

| December 19, 2010 8:00 PM

They're about as sexy as statues under wool blankets, but this newspaper's ongoing series on city spending is attracting plenty of attention.

Not everyone from the various municipalities in Kootenai County was thrilled that we were doing this, either. But two of the most competent administrators - Stefan Chatwin in Hayden and Eric Keck in Post Falls - bent over backward to answer questions and provide important data, with no skeptical glances or defensive questions. They and most other city officials we interviewed understand and respect that all these numbers belong in the public domain, and that their own paychecks are derived from that same public.

We're withholding judgment on what all those numbers mean. For now, let's just say that it's interesting to see per-citizen spending which ranges upward of $1,400 between one fine town and another.

We'd also like to point out that property tax is the principal driving force in most cities' generation of revenue. And if you think dwindling property values strand all our county's cities on islands of helplessness, think again.

It isn't easy, but cities can increase revenue in a very healthy, bottom-line beneficial way while relieving property-tax pains on most residents. Ever hear of economic development?

The best municipal leaders maintain business-friendly environments and cooperate with agencies like Jobs Plus Inc., Panhandle Area Council and the Idaho Department of Commerce to recruit new businesses to communities and help existing businesses grow.

Steve Griffitts, president of Jobs Plus - a regional business recruiter that's supported by public and private dollars - delights in explaining the positive impact companies have on property tax relief. He cites a national study by American Farmland Trust that shows for every dollar of revenue collected by a community, it will spend an average of $1.17 on services for each residence. Put another way, if Coeur d'Alene collects $1,000 from property tax on your house and lot, it's likely to spend $1,170 on services for you. Any wonder budgets are upside down?

Businesses are a different breed, according to the same study. For every dollar of revenue collected from businesses, communities spend, on average, just 27 cents in services. In other words, a community will boisterously boost its bank account by supporting businesses and lose money on residents.

That's just one more big reason economic development is so important in supporting any community's quality of life.

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