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Island Park voters to decide fate of possible auditorium district

ISLAND PARK, Idaho (KIFI) - The polls in Island Park will open at 8 a.m. Tuesday morning, and voters in the community will decide what will happen with an auditorium district that will be on the ballot.

Both sides of the debate may agree on the need for a civic center coming into the area, but the difference comes down to the timing.

"The community needs a place where we can have meetings, that we can have our clubs and do fundraisers and other things. We have no place right now that is big enough, large enough to have a very much of a meeting at all.  We've lost all of those places," said Bruce Ard, a member of the Auditorium District Committee Member.

"It just this seems like it's bad timing. You know, if we get down the road and we can see a true need for it. Yes...but this time  Island Park does not have the need for a center like that," Drift Lodge and Fly Shop owner Mike Wilson said.

Island Park is home to many non-profit groups that try to gather in the businesses nearby; however, they are slowly running out of options, Ard said.

"The Marriott has more than tripled the price of their room there. And a lot of our organizations just simply can't afford to use that facility anymore. And we really have nowhere else. The restaurants can't let us in because they need to turn their tables and it can't you can't tie him up for meetings like that."

The center of the debate is the proposed funding of the district. The proposal says it will be funded through a 5% lodging tax.

"It's a 5% tax, and it's charged like a sales tax is to be collected by the state and then sent back to the district here. All 100% of it comes back to the district to be used here," Ard said.

Wilson contends while he already pays the state-required 2% lodging tax, he says the raising of the lodging tax might be hurting more than it helps.

"Based off of my lodging revenues, and what I pay to the state on what we're already being taxed - 2% on our travel and tourism tax. It would lower my total revenues by 5%, which in turn would limit the number of employees that I could have by one for one full-time employee per year or two part-time employees during the, you know, the peak season. And they're still they're limiting what the existing businesses can make," Wilson said.

Instead of raising the lodging tax, those in opposition say - why can't we use property taxes instead?

"I think we just need to have a tax levy where all property owners are paying for this. We have approximately 805 registered voters at this time that are eligible for this vote. We have between 1300 to 1400 short-term rental homes, which says the majority of those owners are from out of the area. So let's propose something that taxes the people that are going to be using the facility are going to be paid for and not, tax the people that are not here," Wilson said.

The committee contends in reality, those property taxes wouldn't benefit those who would want to use the facility.

"Our property taxes, in Island Park all go down to Saint Anthony for the county, and then the county distributes it. And although we pay a huge portion of the county taxes, we don't get a huge portion of the services. And this would be the same way this is a tax that is controlled here in the community for the community," Ard said.

Ard said if the district is passed, the committee hopes the new civic center would greatly benefit the Island Park Community.

"Not only the local people who live here, but also the people that come in and visit our community. There could be activities there that they certainly could participate in. We believe that it would extend our season,  maybe starting a little earlier in the spring and extending it in the fall a little bit."

Wilson adds while it may benefit the community and visitors could appreciate it, it wouldn't be easy for them to find.

"It's planned to go in off of Highway 20, where even I'd be willing to say 90% of all tourists that come here will never see it or even know about it. So where the benefit comes from to our visitors,  I've yet to see it."

Polls open Tuesday at 8 a.m.

Article Topic Follows: Idaho Politics

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Braydon Wilson

Braydon is a reporter for Local News 8 and Eyewitness News 3.


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