Supreme Court hears
suit against chamber funding
Express Staff Writer
A group of
Ketchum residents suing to end city expenditures for tourism promotion
encountered an obstacle during an Idaho Supreme Court hearing last week
when Chief Justice Linda Copple Trout said they had suffered no distinct
injuryóa condition set by previous cases for standing to bring a
six Ketchum citizens, the suit contends that the city is prohibited by the
Idaho Constitution from fulfilling its $315,000 annual contract with the
Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber of Commerce for tourism promotion. The
Constitution states that no city shall "make donation" to any
"company or association."
before those issues can be decided, the plaintiffs must show that they
have the legal right to bring them to court.
was dismissed in Fifth District Court in March 2000 on the grounds that
the plaintiffs had no standing. Judge William Hart ruled that mere status
as taxpayers was not enough to show a "distinct palpable
of that decision was heard by the Supreme Court on Thursday in Twin Falls.
A decision is not expected for several months, but Troutís assertion
indicates that at least one justice will probably vote to uphold the
the plaintiffs, Hailey attorney E. Lee Schlender told the court that his
clients had suffered financial loss because even though the chamberís
fee is funded by Ketchumís local option tax, their property taxes are
increased to pay for things the option tax money could be supporting if it
were not going to the chamber.
see that as a unique or distinct injury," Trout replied.
contended that his clients make up part of an injured group.
have two distinct classes of people (in Ketchum), those in the tourist
business and those who arenít" he said. "The reason for this
law was to give relief to taxpayers of the city, not so people in the
tourist business could get rich."
Trout contended that the only reasonably arguable injury was to those
paying the option tax.
tax is a sales tax placed on items typically bought by tourists and is
used primarily to fund the increased infrastructure required by the influx
of visitors. However, a Ketchum ordinance allows the money to be used for
city promotion as well.
City Attorney Margaret Simms contended that the plaintiffs were asking for
a new rule on standing to allow any taxpayer to bring a lawsuit. If that
were to be granted, Simms said, "it would completely paralyze local
would be having courts making decisions on expenditures," she said.
response, Justice Wayne Kidwell suggested the possibility of a
"middle ground" on the subject.
shouldnít a group, if a large group, have access to the courts to decide
grievances?" he asked.
the state attorney generalís office has the power to intervene when the
public trust is clearly violated.
closing remarks, Schlender asked the court not to "walk away"
from ruling on the substantive issues of the caseówhether a local option
tax is limited to funding infrastructure improvements and whether a city
can subsidize private business. If the court does so, he said, "we
really donít have judicial oversight as weíre supposed to have."
interviews, plaintiffs Craven Young and Jake Jacoby said the suitís
intent is not to reduce tourism but to make more money available for
improvements to Ketchumís infrastructure, such as roads and bridges.
the city of Ketchum had ignored requests by himself and others to put a
referendum before voters on whether option tax money should be spent to
fund the chamber of commerce.
why itís festering still, because the city will not sit down with its
own residents and have the issue aired out."
referendum was approved by 87 percent of the voters in 1997 to extend the
local option tax for 15 years and to allow part of its proceeds to be used
for city promotion and visitor information.
contended that the recent election loss by appointed Mayor David
Hutchinson and an earlier loss by Councilwoman Sue Noel were the result of
voter dissatisfaction with business dominance of city politics.