The Sun Valley City Council unexpectedly voted during its second budget hearing last Thursday to slash funding for the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance by $100,000 for fiscal 2013.
A proposal to amend the tentative budget was not listed on the meeting’s agenda. Neither the public nor the city of Ketchum—Sun Valley’s partner in funding the Marketing Alliance—was informed that the amendment was under consideration.
Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall stormed into the Sun Valley City Council chambers at about 6 p.m. during the Aug. 16 meeting to express his disagreement with the council’s decision and to ask council members to reconsider.
Hall was joined by Sun Valley Marketing Alliance board President Jake Peters, Sun Valley Co. General Manager Tim Silva and Sun Valley’s representative to the Marketing Alliance, Brooke Wojcik. In an interview, Peters said the group was tipped off about the council’s decision by newly seated Marketing Alliance board member and state Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, who was present at the meeting.
Sun Valley Mayor Dewayne Briscoe allowed Hall, Peters, Silva and Wojcik to make comments out of “courtesy.” They each expressed surprise at the decision and spoke out against it.
“My concern is being a partner without having any notice, without honoring at least our relationship and giving us the courtesy to at least be here and discuss it,” Hall said. “I think it’s destructive to our relationship, not to mention the overall picture of marketing. The idea is to get more, not less.”
Sun Valley Councilman Franz Suhadolnik was particularly shocked by Hall’s unorthodox attempt to open the lines of communication between the two cities.
“I’m offended when these people come storming in like they’re going to intimidate us or demand us,” Suhadolnik said after Hall, Peters, Silva and Wojcik left the chambers. “I really am offended by that. I don’t go to their meetings and tell them how to run their budgets.”
The council’s decision was spurred by public comment from Sun Valley resident Jim Bronson during the city’s first budget hearing Aug. 7.
“The Sun Valley Marketing Alliance has budgeted $465,000 for salaries and benefits,” Bronson said at the hearing. “I don’t know how big their staff is. I don’t know what we’re getting for $465,000 in compensation and benefits. Are we giving everyone a BMW? Does everyone have a Zenergy membership? Do they have private jets?”
On Thursday, Councilman Nils Ribi claimed he was “rankled” with the Marketing Alliance, citing “overhead costs” and “salaries” as reasons for his concern.
“This is not what we wanted,” Ribi said.
Suhaldonik has expressed concern with the Marketing Alliance throughout the budgeting process.
“We have more marketing directors in this town than we have skiers,” he said at a City Council meeting Aug. 1.
The Marketing Alliance—originally known as the Marketing Board—was formed in 2010 by a partnership between the cities of Ketchum and Sun Valley, spearheaded by Sun Valley City Councilman (now Council President) Bob Youngman. Both cities agreed that judging by dwindling visitor numbers, the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau was not effectively marketing the Sun Valley area outside of Blaine County. The cities each stripped their annual funding for the Chamber & Visitor’s Bureau by $400,000 and pledged to use the freed-up funds to jointly support the new Marketing Board. Sun Valley even put up $20,000 in seed money to get the ball rolling.
Both cities honored the agreement in their fiscal 2011 budgets, the first year of the partnership. However, in September 2010, just before the fiscal 2011 budgets were adopted, the Marketing Board merged with the Chamber & Visitors Bureau to become the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance.
“The structure they’re proposing is not acceptable,” Youngman said in September 2010. “I will not support any funding going to that organization whatsoever.”
In fiscal 2012, Sun Valley lowered its commitment to the Marketing Alliance by $44,000, giving the organization $356,000. Ketchum responded by increasing its commitment, giving the Marketing Alliance $456,000 in fiscal 2012 to more than make up the difference for Sun Valley’s reduction.
It was Youngman who made the motion Thursday to reduce the Marketing Alliance’s funding. It passed 3-1, with councilwoman Michelle Griffith voting no.
“I think that the Marketing Alliance is starting to show positive results,” Griffith said to the other council members. “I’m prepared to give them another year and measure their performance by any metrics you guys put forward.”
If the council does not reverse its decision, the Marketing Alliance’s proposed fiscal 2013 budget of $1.21 million would be cut by nearly 8.3 percent.
Ketchum City Council President Baird Gourlay expressed extreme disappointment in Sun Valley’s decision.
“It reminds me of a child who’s acting poorly and you don’t know whether to incentivize them or scold them,” Gourlay said at a Ketchum council meeting Monday.
Hall, the Ketchum City Council and Peters expressed agreement Monday that Hall should send an email to Briscoe suggesting that Ketchum would give an additional $25,000 to the Marketing Alliance if Sun Valley reversed its decision.
“What do we do if they don’t reconsider?” Gourlay said.
Councilwoman Nina Jonas said that would be a “crisis situation.”
Hall said that beyond the financial consequences of Sun Valley’s decision, it also has “philosophical” implications.
“[Sun Valley] started this [organization] and they’re not making these commitments,” Hall said, “It’s nuts. Partners don’t treat partners like that.”
Just before Hall left Sun Valley on Thursday, Briscoe asked him about the status of the Enclosure Fire, which started Thursday southwest of Ketchum.
“Do we have a new fire?” Briscoe said.
Hall’s response: “You have a new fire right here in your council chambers.”
Brennan Rego: email@example.com