Vote to Protect Haskill Basin

This easement will legally and permanently protect our water supply

By Zak Anderson

I grew up in Whitefish. It has always been the caring people, natural beauty and pristine environment that have kept me coming back no matter where adventure, school, or work may have taken me. Like many of my fellow citizens I have been a seasonal employee, homeowner, volunteer member of a few boards, and lover of the outdoors. At the risk of sounding like an old man, I have also seen myriad change in my hometown, mostly for the better. Personally, I cannot think of a more important topic than the protection of our watershed. I have attended the informational meetings and talked to a number of Whitefish residents and business owners about the opportunity to leverage millions of dollars in grants and raise funds to protect our drinking water, access to recreation, our view corridor towards the Whitefish Range and important wildlife habitat in the Haskill Basin area. It appears that most residents are supportive of the increase in the resort tax; however, there have been a few individuals I have spoken with who are not in favor of the tax increase. Those I have talked to that are opposed to the 1 percent increase seem to be unaware of the all facts surrounding the project or are confused by incorrect information and rumor. I have also noted erroneous information in some of the recent letters to the editor and the opinion column. I did my homework and came up with this pertinent information:

The easement will not “allegedly” protect the water supply to Whitefish and recreational opportunities. This easement will legally and permanently protect our water supply as well as make legal all the rights the city requires as a municipality to operate, maintain, and deliver clean water to residents and visitors.

The money funding the parking structure and City Hall is Tax Increment Fund (TIF) money. Those funds cannot be used outside of the TIF district, so any discussion of utilizing those funds is moot.

News stories about the Haskill Basin project started appearing in June 2013, and many public meetings have occurred. Later on Feb. 17, 2015 city council approved to bring the resort tax funding option to the voters. The public has had ample time to be informed and decide how to vote in the April 8 – 28 special ballot election.

According to the surveys conducted, other options like an increase in water rates or a general obligation bond that would raise property taxes are a concern for those on a fixed income.

The additional 1 percent to protect our watershed will expire in 10 years, along with the current 2 percent. The resort tax will not be here forever, unless residents vote to reaffirm it before it sunsets in 2025.

The current 2 percent resort tax was approved by 56 percent of voters in 1995 on lodging, restaurants, prepared food, alcoholic beverages and specific “non-essential” retail items. The vote established the tax, the taxable items, and where the money can be spent; 65 percent on existing streets and all associated utilities, 5 percent for bicycle paths and other capital park improvements, 5 percent for the collecting merchant’s administration costs, and 25 percent for property tax relief.

City residents approved the resort tax again in 2004 for an additional 20 years, this time with 76 percent approval. Revenue from the 2 percent resort tax over the past 17 years has provided $14,401,337 in street improvements, $6,561,127 has been returned to city taxpayers in the form of property tax relief, $784,814 in park projects, and $784,814 for merchant administrative costs.

If voters pass to increase the resort tax, 25 percent of the additional penny on the dollar will provide an estimated $3,634,456 returned to city taxpayers in the form of property tax relief over 10 years. State law mandates that the resort tax cannot exceed 3 percent. If the 1 percent increase raises the necessary funds for Haskill Basin faster than expected, then the balance of the 1 percent collected goes to additional property tax relief.

In summary, we will be protecting the watershed while legally securing access to the water itself and the ability to recreate on the land in perpetuity. Millions in grant money and federal funds have been secured to offset the amount needed to pay for the land, which is being sold at a discount thanks to the Stoltze family. If we pay the remaining $7.7 million by the proposed 1 percent increase in resort tax, it will spread the financial burden across more than half a million annual visitors, instead of just the 5,200 Whitefish households. This vote is a no-brainer for Whitefish. I am hopeful my fellow citizens will make the right decision and vote “for” the protection of Haskill Basin.

Zak Anderson

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