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Monday, November 27, 2017
Andrew Dowd | Leader-Telegram

River Prairie hotel brings influx of tourism money

ALTOONA - Even with a major road project and adding more amenities to the River Prairie development next year, the city's 2018 budget does not increase the property tax rate on homeowners.

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Tonight the Altoona City Council is scheduled to hold a hearing and vote on the $11.4 million spending plan for next year, which manages to hold the property tax rate flat.

"We're trying to keep the mill rate level, to the extent we have control over it," city Administrator Michael Golat said.

The City Council does have the option to increase the property tax rate should it want to use less of its reserves to pay off debt, according to materials prepared for tonight's meeting. If the council opts to go that route, it could increase the city's portion of the tax bill on a $150,000 home by up to $21 next year.

Even without increasing the tax rate, Altoona will get $89,000 more in overall property taxes next year due to growth in the city.

And the success of a large hotel built out at River Prairie has created a massive increase in a revenue stream that Altoona didn't have much of in the past.

Before the Staybridge Suites' opening last year, Golat said Altoona usually got around $10,000 annually from the Evenox Hotel and a couple of small motels in the city. This year, Altoona is expecting about $172,000, mostly due to Staybridge.

"It did surpass our expectations," Golat said. "We thought we'd be in the $140,000 range, but we are conservative."

That influx of tax revenue will be spent mostly on tourism promotion and development, some of it specifically for events being planned at River Prairie.

The $1.5 million the city will spend next year on public features in the development includes a restroom and storage building and completing its plans for areas for gatherings, entertainment and recreation.

"We're essentially just finishing up what we started with park amenities," Golat said.

The city also is increasing its seasonal staffing for park workers to help with River Prairie.

Going to school?

Upgrades to Bartlett Avenue/​Highway KB, including the addition of an 8-foot-wide sidewalk, are included in the budget to an extent. Residents had urged the city to extend the project from the core of the city out to the elementary school, but the budget currently funds part of that length.

David Elvig, leader of Altoona Outdoors, emailed city leaders on Monday to urge them to put the entire project - all the way to the school - in the budget.

"Please favor the complete solution," he wrote.

His group has pledged $15,000 to the project, only if it goes the whole distance, and an additional $5,000 if votes in favor of it are unanimous.

Golat said only a portion is funded in the budget because of a couple of matters the city needs settled before proceeding with the rest of it. Those issues include land acquisition for stormwater retention along the road and the potential for grant funding to help pay for the project.

Golat said the project would still need approval from the City Council, which has held several meetings in recent weeks to discuss it.

"It hasn't been a slam dunk but there seems to be momentum in that direction," he said.

Contact: 715-833-9204, andrew.dowd@ecpc.com, @ADowd_LT on Twitter

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