Friday, October 26, 2012

Air-service campaign ramps up as vote nears

Some residents opposed, confused


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Updated 10/26/2012 12:49 p.m.

As Election Day draws near, supporters of a 1 percent local-option tax to support air service are ramping up efforts—and opponents of the tax seem reticent to talk about the reasons behind their opposition.

Doug Brown, founder of business coalition the Wood River Economic Partnership, said he has spent countless hours sitting at a table in Atkinsons’ Market in Ketchum in support of Yes to Air, the campaign in support of the supplemental tax.

“I get people walking by me giving thumbs-up signs right and left,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of the people I talk to, once they get educated, they are very supportive.”

Brown said the most passionate support comes from second-home owners, who say they wish their friends and family had easier access to come visit them. A recent study by Sustain Blaine economic development group showed that most second-home owners access the valley via air, and Brown said they want their families and friends to be able to do the same—more directly.

“Their friends come from all over, it’s hard for them,” he said, adding that he spoke to a man who moved to the valley with eight other families 30 years ago. The other seven families left, he said, because it was too hard to invite their friends and family to their home.

“He was explaining to me how much they want to bring in friends to come here,” Brown said. “It’s a beautiful place, they want to throw parties all summer. It’s just too hard.”

Brown said that most second-home owners in the valley seem to respond well to the idea of air service from San Francisco or another hub such as Denver.

“When I mention San Francisco, their eyes just light up,” he said. “They just want more options.”

Still, some are unconvinced.

Ketchum resident Jake Jacoby has been vocal against the proposed tax on both Idaho Mountain Express comment boards and in advertisements.

Jacoby did not respond to several calls from an Express reporter by press time to gather more details on his opposition. However, in an essay on his website, he states that he feels locals will pay more of the increase than visitors will. He also contends the tax is illegal, despite an opinion from the Idaho Attorney General’s Office that the tax would be justifiable as it would be for a public purpose.

County resident George Giroux said that while he can’t vote on the supplemental local-option tax for air service, he will still have to pay it if it passes when he shops in Ketchum, Hailey or Sun Valley.

Giroux said he’s still struggling to decide whether the local-option tax is a good idea—while he doesn’t argue with the principle, he said he wishes the language of the joint powers agreement governing how the money can be spent was less ambiguous.

“I would be much more a booster of it if it was entirely dedicated to new service, which is what this valley says we need,” he said.

Instead, a proposed budget from Fly Sun Valley Alliance shows that 33 percent of the funding would go toward new service, while the remainder would go to existing flights, marketing and administrative costs.

“Throwing more money at the same system—it’s kind of, ‘eh,’” he said.

Giroux added that he thinks there should be more coordination between Fly Sun Valley Alliance—or whoever administrates the new funding, if the tax passes—and the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance. He said it makes sense to him to establish new flights connected to areas where the Marketing Alliance can target new audiences.

Brown said he is also running into some confusion while working the table at Atkinsons’ Market in Ketchum. He said some people think his table has to do with airport relocation, a completely unrelated issue, while some are confused about exactly what items would be taxed more under the supplemental LOT.

Brown said he worries that the ballot language will confuse voters as well. The ballot statement is lengthy, listing all items that would be taxed in what Brown called “legalese.” 

But what the language boils down to is this: In Ketchum and Sun Valley, retail sales, restaurant food, liquor by the drink, ski lift tickets and passes and hotel rooms will be taxed an extra 1 percent; in Hailey, the new tax would be levied on hotel rooms and rental cars only.

Sun Valley’s LOT is conditional on the passage of Ketchum’s supplemental LOT, according to the ballot, which states that no local-option tax for air service will be collected in Sun Valley until a ballot measure collecting the same tax passes in Ketchum.

Fly Sun Valley Alliance Executive Director Carol Waller said the Yes to Air campaign is making every effort to clear up misunderstandings before the election, mainly by continuing education efforts.

The campaign will hold one more educational “Flight Night” on Thursday, Nov. 1, at 5 p.m. at the Cornerstone Bar and Grill in Ketchum. Waller said businesses have been very supportive so far, but she doesn’t know how the election will play out.

“The business community in general, if you look at the list of endorsements, there are a lot of people behind us,” she said. “People have been very supportive.”


 

Yes To Air campaign

The cities of Ketchum, Sun Valley and Hailey all approved ballot language earlier last month to ask voters if they support a new 1 percent local-option tax on items such as retail sales, lodging and liquor by the drink. It would be used to fund minimum-revenue guarantees for air service in and out of Friedman Memorial Airport. These guarantees help mitigate the risk to airlines operating  service in seasonal resort markets—essentially, if airlines’ revenues fail to cover the cost of operating the flights, the guarantees help fill that gap. The money could shore up existing routes and be used to attract new routes.


Kate Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com

 




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