Next week’s city election could make the record books, but it likely will be for abysmally low voter turnout.
For the first time in Sandpoint’s history, there are no challengers for any of the three council seats. That has city officials predicting many residents won’t bother venturing to the polls.
Sandpoint, Dover and Kootenai all have incumbent-only races for council seats. The only drawing card in Sandpoint is an advisory ballot on a resort city tax.
The city wants to know if residents are willing to tax themselves or tourists to pay for park improvements, land acquisition or more downtown parking. The advisory ballot proposes increasing the sales tax a half percent or imposing a 1 percent tax on motel rooms.
“The ballot will have no binding effect on the City Council,” Mayor David Sawyer said. “It will give the mayor and council a sense of direction regarding whether or not there is support in the community for either (tax).”
The bed tax would generate about $35,000 to $40,000 a year, while the sales tax could boost city revenue $500,000 a year.
Residents also can indicate where they would like the tax money spent if they support the idea. Some options include improvements at City Beach; new grandstands at Memorial Field; property tax relief; and putting in a greenbelt on recently vacated railroad property that is for sale.
The city has tried twice to pass a resort city tax. The measure failed in 1989 and 1992 with 60 percent of voters opposing it. Some business owners fear an added sales tax would send local customers into neighboring Ponderay to buy cheaper groceries and cars. Motel owners would face the same dilemma if a bed tax were approved. Tourists shopping for the best rates would find cheaper rooms in Ponderay.
In other city elections, the most controversial race has popped up in Priest River. Current Mayor Rush Balison decided not to seek re-election. The race now is between current councilman Bill Mullaley and Assembly of God pastor Tom Hartliep.
While Mullaley is after the mayoral post, residents are trying to oust him from the council. He is under attack for pressing on with projects that did not have full council approval, including having trees removed from Priest River City Park. Mullaley contracted a logger to cut the trees and offered the man the profits from the timber.
The incident was turned over to the Bonner County prosecutor to see if there were grounds to file charges against Mullaley. The recall vote for Mullaley is slated for February. If he loses the mayoral race, he still will retain his council seat.
Five candidates are vying for two seats on the Priest River council. Incumbent Martha Perry is running, along with Mellisa Bethel, James L. Martin, Wallace S. Mitchell and Robert L. Twining.
In Ponderay, three candidates are running for two at-large council seats. Incumbents Dean Miller and Jessie DeMers are being challenged by Sherry Blood.
Longtime Clark Fork mayor Ambrose Martinosky has two council members after his job, Linda Reed and Art Ratcliff. In the Clark Fork council race, incumbents Brian Cantrell and Tom Shields are vying for two open posts. They will be challenged by Ronald Turner.