Friday, January 22, 2021

Planting a seed to address growing pains

| January 3, 2021 1:00 AM

We interrupt the relentless pursuit of your money to note something important for the new year.

You might be asked to fork out more.

Just when you thought the crush of holiday giving requests had gratefully expired, reality in the form of a brand new year and its challenges arises like a great shadow on the horizon.

While our traffic congestion is laughable to many urbanites who have moved here, it is nonetheless a major annoyance to those who have lived here a long time. That's why, even though the ballot measure was soundly whipped in the Nov. 3 election, nearly 30,000 Kootenai County voters volunteered to take on a $50 annual fee, per vehicle they own, for two full decades.

As several letters to the editor reflected, sentiment is strong that newcomers and those who profit most from their arrival should take on the lion's share of paying for that growth through big impact fees. There's some merit to that argument because it might provide some badly needed revenue to address growing pains while also possibly slowing the growth.

Problem is, two of the biggest areas we need to address as a proactive community, traffic and workforce housing, are so far behind that fair impact fees wouldn't make up the deficit we've accumulated over the last decade or so.

That's why it's time to think hard about the best ways to generate sufficient revenue to ease our traffic problems while figuring out how to ensure there's enough housing for workers who are being forced out of the market by skyrocketing rent and purchase prices — again, among the fastest growing in the nation.

This is not a formal proposal, but a seed. Think about an ongoing, substantial revenue source that's shared by all who put pressure on our infrastructure.

Start thinking about a special-use fee, something either allowed by Idaho statute or attractive enough that legislators would be willing to take up in the 2021 session.

In November, Spokane City Council approved an ordinance that increased its sales and use tax by 0.1%. That will help pay for affordable housing and support services as part of a long-term plan.

Boise is doing some ground-breaking work, literally and figuratively, with developers who have found a sufficient profit level while building workforce housing that's roughly 25 percent under the market average.

There are creative ways to tackle this two-headed traffic and housing beast. None of them, to our knowledge, is free — but the dividends can be outstanding.

It's worth avid pursuit in this new year, a vaccine for two of the challenges that seriously ail our community.