Earth to Ketchum: The city is in the travel and hospitality business. Without the taxes it generates, the city would look like a lot of wide spots in the road in Idaho.
History lesson: In an earlier universe, before some elected officials in Ketchum’s government were born, local businesses formed a chamber of commerce to market the area. It organized, went bankrupt, died, reformed and would have died again had the city not stepped in with a marketing contract because local businesses had proven they could not market themselves.
They couldn’t because a lot of businesses refused to pay a fair share for marketing. They skated and paid nothing.
At the same time, city leaders recognized that seasonal spikes in the number of visitors strained city services funded solely by property taxes. Enter a state law that authorized collection of local-option sales taxes in resort cities.
The LOT eased property taxes by forcing visitors to shoulder some of the burden for paying for infrastructure and services. It also enabled the city to fund marketing to attract visitors and keep the LOT rolling in.
For years, the city contracted with a local chamber of commerce for marketing. Then, it joined forces with the city of Sun Valley and formed the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance, which concentrates solely on marketing the area.
Now, Ketchum Councilwoman Courtney Hamilton says businesses should market themselves and that this is not the government’s role. That’s like saying people should do their own appendectomies.
It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now. End marketing and kiss the LOT goodbye.
Councilman Michael David says the city’s job is to fill potholes. If he hates potholes, he will really hate going back to gravel streets. He will hate having to tell homeowners that firefighters saved only the building’s foundation because the city doesn’t have enough water pressure to put out a fire. He will hate having to tell a grieving family that its loved one died because the city couldn’t afford emergency medical technicians.
Ketchum looks successful, but the truth is more complicated. Members of the City Council who don’t know the city’s history need to read it or talk to someone who lived through jobless seasons, failed businesses and weeks on end when dogs slept peacefully on Main Street.
It took decades to build the revenue that produces the pittance that Ketchum spends on marketing. The city doesn’t have a revenue problem. It has a problem with bloated administration.
Throwing marketing away in the name of filling potholes would be stupid and sentence the area to repeating the history its leaders apparently don’t know.