Commentary by CAROL WALLER
and KURT NELSON
The issue of funding community-wide marketing efforts through the Local
Option Tax (LOT)an additional sales tax on lodging, liquor, retail and building
supplieshas recently been questioned by some local residents. We believe this offers
us the opportunity to once again help explain the importance of the efforts made by the
Sun Valley/Ketchum Chamber of Commerce (a non-profit organization) to maintain a healthy
business environment. A strong economic climate in our community does benefit everyone who
lives and works here.
Tourism is the main economic engine that enables local residents to
enjoy a unique quality of life and special amenities that are not found in non-destination
resort towns of our size. Without the business that tourism brings to our community, we
would not have such a wide array of outstanding restaurants, unique shops, hundreds of top
rate cultural events, and first-class recreational amenities. Most of us live here
precisely because of all these wonderful assets.
It is a fact that growth is happening at a rapid pace in many small
towns throughout the country, especially resort communities like ours. People are
relocating in record numbers from urban areas to small towns that offer a very high
quality of life.
This "urban flight" phenomenon is a result of many factors,
and the raging bull market over the past decade has certainly helped fuel the displacement
of urban refugees to desirable resort communities throughout the nation. This displacement
has led to an influx of new residents, more building and development and more strains on
the existing infrastructure.
The Chambers mission is to promote tourism and economic
development and to preserve the quality of life in the Wood River Valley. We recognize
that the unique community attributes that residents want to preserve are the same ones
that appeal to visitors. While we are working hard just to maintain our existing tourism
base in a highly competitive marketplace, we are also concerned with finding ways to
properly plan for and mitigate impacts of the growth our community is experiencing. That
is why the chamber board, staff, volunteers and members are actively involved in
transportation, housing, downtown improvements and other related community planning
efforts. All of us who live here, whether we are involved directly in the local business
economy or not, have a vested interest in how well our community grows into the future.
The LOT was created more than 15 years ago as a vehicle for raising
additional revenue (primarily from tourists) in the cities of Ketchum and Sun Valley to
help fund important city services and infrastructure improvements.
Without the LOT, these services and improvements would either not
happen, or they would have to be paid by local residents through increased property taxes.
And while property values have risen dramatically throughout the valley, the actual
percentage of property tax in Ketchum and Sun Valley has actually been decreasing because
the LOT has been generating additional revenues.
For example, the percentage of property tax paid by residents is now
actually higher in Hailey than it is in either Ketchum or Sun Valley. The annual LOT
revenues, which are generated primarily by visitors, currently provide as much funding to
the cities of Ketchum and Sun Valley as property taxes$1.8 million per year in
Ketchum and $1.2 million per year in Sun Valley. These LOT revenues are actually reducing
property tax rates on property owners in both Ketchum and Sun Valley, in addition to
providing many additional benefits to the community.
Over the past 15 years the LOT has generated over $32 million dollars
in Ketchum and Sun Valley which has been used for a wide variety of special services and
infrastructure improvements. These include police, fire and emergency services, hospital
services, KART, new street equipment and storage buildings, new snowplows, road and bike
path improvements, new Atkinsons Park building and recreational equipment, the Park
& Ride lot, the Forest Service Park, downtown streetscape improvements, visitor
information and marketingthe list goes on.
Each year the Ketchum and Sun Valley city councils decide how to best
use the LOT funds for their respective communities when determining their budgets. These
decisions are based on identified needs and priorities, and input from the public is an
important part of the process.
Of the total LOT funding over the years, only 12 percent to 16 percent
has been spent on marketing and visitor information, yet those activities are critical to
the economic health of our community. For over a decade, the cities have contracted with
the Sun Valley/Ketchum Chamber of Commerce to provide these marketing and visitor
This is not an unusual arrangement. In most states and cities that
depend on tourism, the state travel department, local chamber or convention and visitors
bureau receives the majority of their funding through some type of tourism tax revenue.
For example, the state of Idaho funds the marketing efforts of its Idaho Travel Council
through a 2 percent statewide lodging tax. The ITC retains 55 percent of these bed tax
funds for statewide marketing efforts and grants back 45 percent of the bed tax funds to
local chambers and other nonprofit organizations for promotion at the regional and
Throughout the nation, many cities with larger populations have both a
chamber of commerce and a convention and visitors bureau. Typically, the chamber of
commerce is focused on business support, expansion and recruitment, while the convention
and visitors bureau is focused on tourism promotion.
In Idaho, for example, both Boise and Pocatello have a separate
convention and visitors bureau whose tourism marketing efforts are funded by a local
tourism-based tax. In our small community, however, the Sun Valley/Ketchum Chamber of
Commerce is responsible for not only local business support and retention (we do not
actively recruit new businesses), but also for tourism, marketing and visitor information
programs. We function as a combined chamber/convention and visitors bureau.
No matter what "business" you are in, you need to market your
products or services in order to sell them. The local business community, which collects
these tourism-based taxes, has recently encouraged both cities to reinvest 25 percent of
annual Local Option Tax revenues in marketing programs to help at least maintain our
current level of tourism business.
Most of these businesses also directly aid in the overall community
marketing effort through sponsorships, in-kind contributions and other special promotions.
Considering that 75 percent of the annual LOT funds, (nearly $1 million in Sun Valley and
$1.5 million in Ketchum) are spent on other services and city infrastructure improvements,
the return on this reinvestment truly does benefit the community as a whole.
Carol Waller is executive director of the Sun Valley/Ketchum Chamber
Kurt Nelson, is the chambers board president