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Miss the Oct. 17 Grangeville candidates’ forum? The Idaho County Free Press broadcasted the event on Facebook Live.
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GRANGEVILLE Issues of insufficient housing and ways to encourage development were at the forefront of discussion for both candidates and the public at a forum last week.
Hosted by the Grangeville Chamber of Commerce, the two-hour event last Tuesday, Oct. 17, split questioning into two parts to address contested races for three open council positions, as well as the mayor seat; all are four-year terms that will be up in the Nov. 7 election.
For council are incumbents Beryl Grant and Scott Winkler, and Earl Musick, Todd McGeorge, Dan Gautney and Dylan Canaday. For mayor, running are Wes Lester, Lance McColloch, Dan Tackett and John Viknius.
More than 90 people attended the event at the Elks Lodge.
Both council and mayoral candidates that evening acknowledged a long-standing issue of insufficient housing that impacts local business recruitment and results in many who work in Grangeville having to reside in outside communities. Held up as a hindrance to development was the city’s equity buy-in program, ordinances for which were approved in 2005 that established fees for new developments in areas with no existing water and sewer services. Buy-in fees go toward long-term capital improvements and not general maintenance.
Criticism is the fees discourage development of apartment projects, for example, due to assessing a fee for each unit as the same as a single-family residence. Adding to this, Grangeville businessman Ted Lindsley advocated a buy-in moratorium: “The city should have a sale on housing, like I have a sale on couches.” Council discussion earlier this spring considered reworking the fee schedule based on differing utility usages in these situations.
That council meeting on the fees “was what lit my fire,” Musick said, on running for council. “I’ve seen a lot of gridlock and nobody listening to what a room full of people was telling them.”
“I don’t think you should do away with them, but I think you should reduce them,” stated Canaday on the buy-in fees.
“Motions can be made and we can move forward,” Gautney said. “Hopefully, with a new council we can change that.”
Grant said she was not opposed to the city changing how buy-in fees were charged, “but it needs to be reasonable and it needs to be thought out.” Both she and Winkler noted the fees were set based on an engineer user rate study.
“I don’t disagree with what Ted thinks or feels,” Winkler said, and on the fees, “I’m not saying they can’t be reduced, not saying they can.”
For housing, Musick said, “It’s not the job of the city to build houses,” but the council can be a part in encouraging development, and that there is a need to “expand the city, get more homes here and increase the tax base, instead of increasing our taxes.”
McGeorge expanded this, saying housing as well as bringing in new business help the base: “Those people invest in the community. The issues are intertwined.”
Annexation was raised as an option to grow the city, which both Grant and Winker noted was an issue ultimately up to those residents within the county’s jurisdiction.
“They have to be willing to be annexed and go on the tax rolls,” Winkler said. “Several are on the outskirts who don’t want to annex, and they are on the line.”
For mayoral candidate, McColloch, annexation would be a new revenue option to address city financial needs that are currently met with taxing and increasing taxes on the existing base of residents and business owners.
“There are ways to create revenues without LIDs [Local Improvement District], taxes,” he said, and the city is competing with the county for residents; it should be inviting developers to build here rather than outside. On annexing, “I believe something can be done fairly quickly.”
Mayor candidates were questioned on what housing growth they would like to see. McColloch earlier in the evening noted only 25 homes had been built in town since 2006, and five of those in the last seven years: “If we could do 30 to 40 homes, that would be huge,” he said.
“I’d like to see 40 to 50 over three years, be more aggressive,” Viknius said, stimulated in part by bringing down buy-in fees.
“Realistically I see 10 homes,” Lester said, adding that industry is also needed to improve the tax base. He agreed with Musick and Gautney on the existing market that has overpriced and rundown homes, which impacts available housing. Those need to be renovated and remodeled, “but you have to get the owners to realize what they have.”
Tackett agreed, “The biggest problem is old homes,” needing improvement. “I’d like to see 30 to 40 homes, but it has to have industry to support that.” Just an overall updating of properties lends to attractiveness that makes the community one people will want to move to and live in: “If we can keep it a likable place, that helps keep the base up.”
Former city councilor Shelly Dumas asked mayoral candidates whether they’d support a local option tax (LOT), a revenue option approved by voters that goes toward specific projects.
Lester remarked general business consensus was a LOT would drive more commerce out of town. “We try to run it [the city] as a business and try to run it in the black. If the public wants a local option tax, we’ll put it on the ballot and try to pass it.”
Tackett supported a LOT to provide stable revenue, as existing taxes are almost not enough to maintain the quality of city services without possible cuts: “It’s a tough choice, but the voters, you guys are out bosses. You decide what we do.”
“I don’t think it’s going to pass,” Viknius said, and the city should pursue other options to improve the base including increased manufacturing, more available housing, annexation and addressing buy-in fees.
“We need to utilize what we have, bring in new business and developers,” McColloch said, rather than another tax that further impacts the same number of residents already paying for services. An LOT, “has to be the last option, and there are lots of options. Run the city like a business. We have to start building a bigger tax base.”