Tucked Away on the Palouse in Rural, Northwestern Idaho, Moscow Charms with its Mellow Way of Life, Gentle Spirit, "Granola" Vibe and Dramatic Natural Landscape
Cost of Living: Above the National Average
Along the Idaho/Washington border and about 80 miles southeast of Spokane in northwestern Idaho, the peaceful town of Moscow (population 26,000) makes it home. It is the site of the University of Idaho (12,000 students), and it boasts a youthful, "granola" vibe in which bicycles are prevalent, the food co-op is usually crowded and locally owned coffee shops have a loyal following. Moscow (pronounced Mos-coe) started out in the late-1800s as a hog raising center and farming community. No one is quite sure where it got its name, but the general consensus is that it has nothing to do with the Russian capital.
Homey, down to earth, a little funky and slightly worn around the edges, Moscow has an educated populace, with 50% of residents holding at least a four year college degree. Politics lean to the left, and the crime rate is below the national average. The city has grown 35% within the last two decades, and 23% of the population is age 45 or better. The cost of living is 4% above the national average.
The cost-of-living meets national average, and the median home price is $450,000, reflecting a 15% increase from a year ago. Real estate is varied, from cute bungalows and ranch ramblers to condos and Victorians. In recent years many newer, "green" properties have popped up. There are some manufactured homes and mobile home parks on the outskirts of town. Apartments are mostly occupied by students.
Idaho is somewhat friendly when it comes to retirement and taxes. Social Security benefits are not taxed, but private pensions, 401(k)s and IRAs are taxed at the ordinary income rate of 1.1% to 6.9%, depending on the amount of income. For people age 65 or better, public pension income may qualify for a deduction, but that deduction is reduced by an amount equal to the amount of the taxpayer's Social Security income. Property owners who are 65 or better may save up to $1,320 in annual taxes through a tax relief program if their annual income is $31,900 or less. The average effective property tax rate (the annual tax payment as a percentage of median home value) in Moscow is .83%. The annual taxes on a $450,000 home are approximately $3,735, without a homestead exemption. The combined sales tax is 6%.
Moscow is in a stunning region known as the Palouse, a farming landscape characterized by miles and miles of treeless hills. Reminiscent of Tuscany, Italy, some hills to the east of town are very steep with cows on top of them while others roll like ocean waves as far as the eye can see. In the evenings, the fading sunlight paints the hills in magical shades of blue, purple, yellow and orange while pasturelands transform into carpets of emerald green. This area is still wide open, unspoiled and a beautiful place to call home.
The town itself is laid out along two main streets and has a quaint, authentic downtwon with locally owned shops, bookstores, coffee houses, eateries and pubs in sturdy brick buildings. Beyond downtown, pizza joints and fast food restaurants are the norm. There is a Wal-Mart, and the Palouse Mall has national retailers ranging from Macy's to Bed, Bath and Beyond and Home Depot. The Moscow Food Co-op is a great place to pick up a tasty morning pastry, and the Saturday farmers' market (May through September) brings out almost everybody.
Residents enjoy a variety of events, including the Lionel Hampden Jazz Festival, the Rendezvous in the Park concert series and a summer-long art walk. The University's Theatre Arts Department has stage productions in the fall and spring, and the athletic department's football, basketball and baseball games happen year round.
Moscow has a strong community spirit. Neighbors know each other, and it is common to run into friends on the street or while shopping. Environmentalism is alive and well here, as is a commitment to a healthy, outdoor lifestyle. Camping, cross country skiing, bicycling, etc. are a way of life, although some winters can turn even the hardiest outdoor adventurer into a temporary homebody.
The Moscow Public Library, built in 1906 and on the National Register of Historic Places, was one of the last libraries funded by Andrew Carnegie. It is intimate, welcoming and has an interlibrary loan program, a variety of classes and public computers with internet access.
Gritman Medical Center has emergency services, surgical services, cancer care, home health care services, critical care and more. It is small (25 beds) but is accredited by the Joint Commission. Medicare patients are accepted. Three other hospitals, Pullman Regional, Whitman Hospital and St. Joseph Regional Medical Center, are within 25 miles. For military retirees, Lewiston, 25 miles away, has a VA outpatient clinic, but the nearest VA medical center is in Spokane, 80 miles away.
SMART Transit operates free public buses and makes stops at many shopping areas and the hospital. The city also offers a Dial-a-Ride service with door-to-door option available.
The Moscow Senior Center is in the 1912 Center (the former Moscow high school and now a multipurpose community gathering place). Programs include Friendly Neighbors meetings, support groups, bingo games, travel clubs and more. The Center also has a library, public computers, low-cost meals and home meal delivery.
Moscow winter temperatures are in the teens, 20s and 30s, and summer temperatures are in the 70s and low-80s. On average, the area receives 50 inches of snow and 23 inches of rain each year. On the comfort index, a combination of temperature and humidity, Moscow ranks well above the national average. The air quality meets the national average.
There are a few drawbacks to retirement here. College students are everywhere and may be too omnipresent for some people. The poverty rate is above the national average, but much of this is attributed to the large student population. The town is off the beaten path and not easy to reach (I-90 runs through Spokane 80 miles to the north). A slight breeze is nearly omnipresent, and strong winds are not uncommon.
Despite these downsides, this town on the Palouse is an appealing place. Still a well-kept secret, Moscow may be just the ticket for retirees in search of a town with a gentle spirit amid a gorgeous natural landscape.
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