'A new form of taxes'

Residents oppose road project LIDs

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A motorist travels passed a deteriorating shoulder and a stretch of patch work alined Sunnyside Road Tuesday in Coeur d'Alene. The Eastside Highway District is considering the area for local improvement district funding to resurface the road.

Some property owners within East Side Highway District are balking at plans to fund road upgrades with local improvement districts.

The three LIDs proposed for areas of Coeur d'Alene and Harrison - which local lot owners would fund - are estimated to total more than a half million dollars.

"LIDs are not a very good way to circumvent voter approval for taxes," said Lorna Casey-Kaiser, who lives on Sunnyside Road in Coeur d'Alene. "This is a new form of taxation, basically."

East Side will hold hearings this Saturday on a proposed $162,000 LID for an overlay on about 2.2 miles of Sunnyside Road in Coeur d'Alene; a $159,000 LID for an overlay on roughly 2.4 miles on Burma Road in Harrison; and a $248,000 LID for an overlay on about 6 miles on O'Gara Road in Harrison.

The cost of the LIDs would be split among owners of parcels that access those road sections.

Owners would have to pay amounts proportional to the benefits of their properties, but Casey-Kaiser worries some people can't afford it.

"I think in this economic environment this is wrong," she said.

Yet district supervisor John Pankratz said this is the only option for funding overlays in the midst of dwindling resources.

"It's absolutely necessary, or we wouldn't be doing it," Pankratz said.

District Commissioner Jimmie Dorsey said East Side has recently been authorized federal funds that would cover nearly the entire cost of the projects. The LIDs are necessary to provide a 12 percent match.

"This is a one-shot opportunity to get 88 percent paid for by the federal government," Dorsey said.

The funds are comprised of leftover stimulus money, he added.

"ITD (Idaho Transportation Department) had leftover funding and was looking for projects on the shelf ready to go, and our projects are on the shelf and ready to go," he said.

He added that contracts for the projects have already been approved by ITD.

Pankratz said the district has less revenue to work with these days, due to a decline in reserve funds and less income from road use taxes.

"To put it simply, if we didn't do these LIDs, these projects wouldn't get done," Pankratz said.

A total of 1,249 parcels would be included in the three LIDs, according to district staff. Some individuals own multiple parcels.

The number of individuals who will have to contribute to the LIDs won't be calculated until the hearings, Pankratz said. He declined to say how much each individual would have to contribute, as those numbers aren't set in stone yet.

Dorsey describe the pavement on the three road sections as falling apart.

"If we don't proceed with this, these roads will not have any maintenance done to them. They will continue to deteriorate," he said.

The overlays would allow the roads to be serviceable for another 25 years, he said.

"Eventually the only real alternative is to grind them up and put them back to gravel," he said. "With our budget the way it is, we couldn't even afford to do that."

The highway district notified Harrison residents James and Karen Sharron that their estimated contribution to the O'Gara Road LID will be $1,600 to $1,700.

The couple considers this double taxation, James wrote in a letter to The Press.

"In the past, all road repairs are done by the ESHD and we pay for this in our county property taxes," he said. "This maintenance expense should not be done by LID, but by taxation of all residents in the ESHD, thereby sharing the cost."

He added that he worries this will set precedent.

"Anyone who lives on a country road could face this when the county decides to repave, or turn a dirt road into a paved road," he wrote.

Casey-Kaiser is going door-to-door petitioning against the Sunnyside LID.

With 90 signatures so far, she hopes to collect enough to require a review by the county commissioners.

"Of all the houses I've been to, there have been maybe three that didn't want to sign," said the Coeur d'Alene woman, who might have to contribute between $300 and $400 to the Sunnyside LID. "People are tired of being taxed."

She questions whether the two miles of Sunnyside Road even require a new overlay, she added.

"It's fine now because they plugged the potholes this year," she said.

Dorsey said he isn't the only one who thinks the pavement is in dire need of repair.

"A lot of our residents are writing in saying, 'I see nothing wrong with the road,' but we get a lot more complaints," he said. "People want the improvements done, and this (creating the LIDs) means we will be able to do this."

He added that individuals on hard times can ask to be exempt from the LIDs at the hearings.

"We would have to look at each case," he said.

The total cost of the Sunnyside Road overlay is estimated at $964,314. Of that, $865,510 will be funded by grant money allotted by ITD.

The Burma Road overlay is estimated at $925,615, of which $827,065 will be funded by grant money. For O'Gara, the overall cost is projected at $2,045,000. Of that, $1,938, 814 will be covered by grants.

The highway district will hold hearings on all three LIDs on Saturday at the East Side Highway District office, 6095 East Mullan Trail Road.

The O'Gara hearing starts at 8 a.m., the Burma hearing at 10 a.m. and the Sunnyside hearing at 1 p.m.

Property owners can only speak in opposition if they have written complaints to the district before 4 p.m. Thursday.

The district will continue pursuing other funding to reduce or replace the LIDs, Dorsey said.

"We're getting quite a few letters of protest. We'll take all those into consideration as we look at the total LIDs," he said.

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