Friday, August 24, 2012

Sun Valley to put new LOT on ballot

Voters to decide on tax hike to support air service


By BRENNAN REGO
Express Staff Writer

    Sun Valley voters will get to decide in November whether the city should approve an ordinance to increase the local-option tax by 1 percent for the purpose of boosting air service to the Wood River Valley.
    By a vote of 3-1 Tuesday, the City Council approved a motion to place the question on the ballot. The idea had originally been proposed by Fly Sun Valley Alliance, an organization that helps negotiate minimum-revenue guarantees with airlines so they’ll fly into Sun Valley. The guarantees are paid on empty seats to motivate airlines to operate in risky markets such as seasonal resort communities.
    The cities of Ketchum and Hailey are also considering including the local-option tax increase on their November ballots. However, as of press time Thursday, Sun Valley was the only city that had approved placement of the ballot question before its voters.
    Councilman Nils Ribi expressed concern that the action was being taken too swiftly, referring to the uncharted legal waters that this use of public funds would force the city to navigate. Municipalities are generally prohibited by state law from using public funds to support private organizations. However, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s office released an opinion stating that the use of public funds to support airline minimum-revenue guarantees in the Wood River Valley could be “legally defensible” under the language allowing LOTs.
    “I think what we present needs to be defensible,” Councilman Nils Ribi said. “What we put out to the voters, we can say, ‘We had this checked, it passes the smell test. If in fact [the voters pass it] we are comfortable that we’ve done our due diligence and we’re not putting the taxpayers at risk.’”
    Ribi expressed agreement with the tax increase, but said he wants to make sure the measure goes to the ballot with the best chance of approval.
    “If this fails in November, it’s a whole other year before it can go [to the ballot] again,” Ribi said. “If it fails, it’s going have an even harder time to pass a second time. And I want this to pass, so let’s give it the best possible chance to pass, and that’s by putting forward a package that’s well researched, well thought-out and done correctly.”
    Councilwoman Michelle Griffith moved to end the discussion and vote immediately. Mayor Dewayne Briscoe gave Ribi the chance to make a motion to postpone the vote, but he declined.
    “I think to wait to do it next May would make the most sense when it’s all clarified, straightforward. And that’s why I can’t support sending it now with these unknowns,” Ribi said.
    The motion passed with Ribi voting against.


Brennan Rego: brego@mtexpress.com




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