Friday, November 9, 2012

Blaine County says ‘no’ to air

LOT passes in Sun Valley, fails elsewhere

Express Staff Writer

Voters in Wood River Valley cities showed support Tuesday for a proposed new tax to support commercial air service, but not enough to make it law. Express file photo

A local-option tax for minimum revenue guarantees for commercial air service failed in two cities Tuesday, as voters failed to give the measure the 60 percent of the vote needed under state law.

The cities of Sun Valley, Ketchum and Hailey had a measure on their ballots on Election Day to add a 1 percent local-option tax to pay minimum revenue guarantees to airlines that might otherwise be unwilling to fly into a risky resort market such as Sun Valley. The supporting campaign was called “Yes to Air.”

The tax would have collected roughly $2.2 million dollars in 2013, part of which may have gone to pay the guarantees on a new flight from San Francisco. The rest of the funding would have gone to support the guarantees on existing seasonal flights from Los Angeles and Seattle, as well as to market all three flights and conduct research on future destinations.

“It surprised me a lot,” said Fly Sun Valley Alliance President Eric Seder of the measure’s failure. “The amount of support seemed enough that I felt really confident it would pass in Ketchum. I was wrong.”

The city of Sun Valley voted 61 percent in favor of the new tax, which could have collected about $587,000 dollars in new taxes on retail sales, ski passes and tickets, restaurant sales, liquor by the drink and lodging.

However, while the vote was enough to pass the LOT, the Sun Valley ordinance placing the measure on the ballot stated that if Ketchum voters failed to pass the supplemental LOT, the Sun Valley City Council would either delay collection of the new tax until Ketchum passes its equivalent or repeal the ordinance.

A majority of Ketchum voters said they supported the tax, but not enough. About 58 percent cast their ballots in favor, about 2 percent short. The tax could have collected about $1.4 million dollars annually on retail sales, ski passes and tickets, restaurant sales, liquor by the drink and lodging.

Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall said he feels the community generally supports the measure, and that Ketchum would likely attempt to put it on the ballot next year.

“We just missed it by a little bit,” he sad. “Sixty percent is a very high threshold, but we have a lot of support in the community.”

State code requires the city to wait for one year before reintroducing the measure, but Ketchum City Administrator Gary Marks said Wednesday that it was too soon to know whether the city would continue its pursuit of levying the tax.

“The council needs time to absorb it,” he said.

The Hailey vote also fell short of the required number. The measure, if passed, would have collected under $50,000 on lodging and rental car sales.

Overall, Hailey voted 59 percent in favor of the tax. Out of five precincts, three voted to pass the tax by more than 60 percent. But it was defeated by the vote in northwest Woodside, which voted 54 percent in favor, and southeast Woodside, which voted 49.7 percent in favor. Southeast Woodside was the only precinct in the three cities to outright reject the measure.

Seder said he hadn’t seen the numbers yet, but imagined that Woodside’s rejection of the LOT may have had something to do with the proximity of the airport.

“It does strike me that those are the neighborhoods most affected by the airport,” he said. “There was confusion that this might have had to do with airport expansion, which it didn’t.”

Seder said that if his organization were to re-launch a campaign next year, the group would work harder to educate and energize voters.

“There were a lot of negative emails circulating that contained a lot of misinformation and factual errors, and there are always some people who will be against anything having to do with a tax,” he said. “I think a great many people thought that this was such an obviously appropriate thing to do that they didn’t really worry about it.”

Seder said Fly Sun Valley Alliance is contemplating its next moves and will form a plan to re-launch the campaign over the next year. He said current flights into the valley would likely not be compromised by the failure of the LOT measure.

“We will continue to do what we can with the resources we have,” he said.

Kate Wutz:


Express reporter Brennan Rego contributed to this report.

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