Friday, June 24, 2005

Silence isn't golden in airport debate

The absence of Sun Valley and Ketchum government officials in discussions about relocation of Friedman Memorial Airport has been glaring. The silence has been deafening.

Yes, the cities appointed representatives to the Airport Site Selection Committee, who attended meetings and asked questions. The Ketchum representative pushed hard for economic analyses of impacts of various sites—to no avail.

Yet to date, Ketchum and Sun Valley elected officials have failed to weigh in. Neither city has had a public debate of any of the impacts of airport relocation—positive or negative. Neither has taken an official position despite being the economic centers of the Wood River Valley with a lot riding on the airport's location.

Should the number of visitors who arrive by air decrease, valley business revenues will decrease. Both cities would see income collected from the resort cities' local option sales tax drop as well.

Ketchum's revenue from the sales tax is $2.3 million annually compared to $2.5 million that it receives in property taxes.

Sun Valley brings in $1.1 million from the tax compared to $2.8 million from property taxes.

Retail, hotel, restaurant and bar businesses generate most of the sales taxes. All are heavily dependent on visitor spending.

The impact of a revenue drop on the cities and taxpayers could be severe. The cities would have no choice but to move the burden off to property tax payers, an unlikely event given state budget restrictions, or to cut services drastically.

Drastic cuts could result in shabby infrastructure and service reductions that could, in turn, drive visitation down further, and put the valley into a sort of economic free-fall. That would not be pretty.

On the other hand, the cities could face a prosperity challenge that could be equally daunting.

Should a distant airport attract wide-body jets and thousands of visitors, the cities could find themselves swamped with demands for services and infrastructure.

Ketchum could see cars overwhelm its limited number of parking spaces. Both cities could suddenly be short of police officers, firefighters, buses and other equipment.

How would they meet the demand?

Sun Valley and Ketchum leaders have been utterly silent on these issues. And, unlike Hailey and Blaine County, neither city has an elected official on the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority, which controls the airport.

It's past time for Ketchum and Sun Valley to speak up. Silence may be golden, but in this case it could be economic suicide.

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