Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Seeley Lake Voters Sink Resort Tax

A Seeley Lake voter prepares to cast her ballot on a proposal to establish a resort tax to improve the local water system. The measure failed. Photo by CHARLES PULLIAM.


SEELEY LAKE – A proposed resort tax in Seeley Lake was failing to clear its final hurdle early Wednesday.

Although some absentee ballot had yet to be counted, roughly 56 percent of voters had opposed the creation of a resort tax district, which would have established a designated area affected by the resort tax.

The actual tax, which would have tacked on an additional 3 percent tax on items such as alcohol, tobacco and restaurant food, was failing by a vote of 220-to-156 as of 1 a.m.

An official total wasn’t available as absentee ballots are still being counted, but the number isn’t expected to affect the final result.

“It was shot down,” said provisional judge Chris Jewett, who headed the polling operation at Seeley Lake Elementary School Tuesday.

About 600 people were eligible to vote on the issue, according to a July district voter report that counted the number of qualified residents within the area.

Becky Kyle, who resides within the district directly affected, said she voted for the tax because it would have helped boost the community as a whole.

“Seeley Lake is lacking infrastructure,” Kyle said. “This is basically a retirement community and for us to grow into something different than that, the resort tax was the answer. It was a great way to start gathering the funds necessary to change."

Kyle, 28, who is employed by Farmers Insurance, owns one of the roughly 540 homes within the water district. The district was a big reason the resort tax was even brought up after voters narrowly approved a 30-year general obligation bond last November to pay $4 million in upgrades to the town’s haphazard water system.

“I thought they might as well take advantage of the people who come here and the people that put their boats in the water and stay at our hotels,” she said. “We might as well have used that to our advantage to create revenue.”

Seeley Lake, which is home to about 1,600 residents, is expected to double within the next 20 years, but the key variables for further growth are how upgrades to the water and sewer systems are approached.

Most residents are currently using septic tanks, which are beginning to threaten the town’s cherished lake.

Addrien Marx, secretary of the town’s community council, said residents will be seeing water bills increase by $35 to $60 per month without the resort tax.

“I think most people see the word ‘tax’ and are turned away from the issue,” she said.

Marx, who owns Rovero’s, a small store and gas station in Seeley Lake, said her business, like others, will see increases of several hundred dollars per month. She said plenty of residents might not be able to meet the necessary jump in costs now.

“I know some old-timers around here who won’t be able to pay, say an extra $40 per month,” she said. “We lose those people, we lose the personality of the town. One of the solutions was the resort tax.”

Marx said she was frustrated in the outcome, but feels the possibility of a resort tax in Seeley Lake resurfacing isn’t too far away.

“I’m very disappointed because I thought it could help residents,” she said. “By next year they will realize they missed the opportunity after facing higher bills without the assistance from the people who pass through our valley.”

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