Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Budget solicitations begin

Mountain Rides, Chamber make requests for 2009 fiscal year

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall took time at Monday’s City Council meeting to swear in the newest city official, Charles Conn, who was appointed to the council to fill the seat recently vacated by Ron Parsons. For his first meeting, Conn listened to funding requests from Mountain Rides and the Sun Valley/Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau. Photo by Willy Cook

Acknowledging the possibility that Ketchum could have to tighten its budgetary belt in the upcoming 2008-2009 fiscal year, the Sun Valley/Ketchum Chamber and Visitors Bureau reduced its initial request for funding by over 8 percent.

In anticipation of the Ketchum City Council's series of budget workshops next week, chamber Executive Director Carol Waller was in council chambers to ask city officials to consider a $381,000 contract for services for the upcoming fiscal year.

The request is $35,000 less than the current year's contract for $416,000.

Waller made a similar request in Sun Valley recently, asking for $300,000, compared to the $338,000 contract for the 2007-2008 fiscal year.

For the upcoming year, Waller said the chamber has an estimated marketing expenditure of $777,000 to attract visitors to Sun Valley and support air service to the area.

Councilman Charles Conn, sitting in his first meeting as the newly appointed replacement for Ron Parsons, asked Waller to give the council an idea of which events attract the most tourists, so that funding can be appropriately designated.

As well, Conn requested that prior to the next meeting with the chamber, scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 13, it give the city information on chamber funding levels in other resort communities.

The anticipated decrease in funding has led the chamber to project some cuts for next year, including a $10,000 reduction of funding for the Ketch'em Alive summer concert series at Forest Service Park.

In a recent press release, Waller stated that the series costs around $22,000 per summer, with the chamber covering $15,000 of that cost. The additional $6,000 is raised by business sponsors and vendors. To keep the same schedule for next year, the chamber has already begun to solicit donations at the past two events, raising almost $1,000.

With its contribution for next year planned to be only $5,000, the chamber is hoping other organizations will increase their funding to keep the series at its current level of quality.

Also in front of the council to make an initial funding request was Jason Miller, executive director of Mountain Rides. Miller said that to maintain the current level of bus and vanpool service, the non-profit organization would require a greater contribution than the current fiscal year.

He said the $600,000 contract for services in 2007-2008 would mean a 10 percent reduction in the number of operational hours. To maintain the same number of hours for the both the Around Town and Down Valley bus services, Miller requested $638,000, plus an additional $20,000 for the capital fund. This latter amount would go towards maintaining and replacing vehicles.

Conn asked for the composition of the Around Town ridership to determine if it would be feasible to charge a fare to assist with costs.

The Ketchum City Council will hold three budget workshops next week, from Monday through Wednesday, at City Hall beginning each day at noon.

Looking overseas for relief

High gasoline prices and the weak U.S. dollar are two of the most publicized indicators of the nation's current economic woes.

While the former is hampering domestic travel, the Sun Valley/Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau is hoping the latter can counter the negative impact on local tourism with some help from abroad.

In a recent press release, chamber Executive Director Carol Waller stated that current economic conditions should lead to a higher return on international marketing investments.

These include expanded public relations efforts in Europe, Canada and Australia, as well as help from newly implemented direct flights from Paris to Salt Lake City.

The chamber has been working with the Idaho Tourism Department and the sales and marketing firm Rocky Mountain International, which has offices throughout Europe.

Waller stated that this campaign should help Sun Valley take advantage of the 11 percent increase over the past year in international travelers visiting the United States.

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