Friday, June 25, 2010

Marketing is priority for Ketchum

Mayor suggests increasing lodging tax to partly fund marketing board


By TREVON MILLIARD
Express Staff Writer

Sitting at table, from right: Ketchum City Councilman Curtis Kemp, Councilman Baird Gourlay, City Administrator Gary Marks, Mayor Randy Hall, Councilman Larry Helzel and Councilwoman Nina Jonas discuss the city’s goals for fiscal year 2011, starting on Oct. 1. Photo by David N. Seelig

The Ketchum City Council spent Thursday crafting a list of five goals for next fiscal year, but one pressing topic drew immediate attention and the most debate: funding a marketing board and what that implies for the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau and its 140 business members.

The meeting was the council and city staff's annual retreat to set goals for the upcoming fiscal year before budget discussions begin.

City Councilman Baird Gourlay said the marketing board is clearly moving forward and will take over the visitor bureau's external advertising efforts.

"We're blind if we don't think it's moving forward," he said.

However, a few glaring questions remain. Where will the city get the $400,000 the mayor has proposed to fund the marketing board? And how far should the city go in dictating the operations of the board?

The council agreed that the marketing board must contain two branches within it—external marketing efforts and the visitor bureau. But one check must be written to the board, which would then disperse the money.

Mayor Randy Hall has proposed that the city provide $400,000 in funding for the board's first year. He first made the proposal a couple of weeks ago, but suggested Thursday for the first time how to get the money. He said $275,000 would come from funding that would have gone to the chamber, about $100,000 from the proposed River Run base village's annexation fees and an estimated $75,000 from a 1 percent increase in local option taxes for lodging. Lodging LOT is currently 2 percent.

The city would need voter approval to raise the tax. Hall said that if the council gives the go-ahead, the LOT change would probably appear before voters in November.

Hall said that even though the city would be financially backing the marketing board, the five members of the marketing board should have the discretion in launching a marketing campaign and overseeing the visitor bureau. Hall said he doesn't have the marketing expertise to control the marketing board, but the board members should have that experience. The trick, he said, is picking the right people. And, he said, the board would need to show progress to the city because they'll need to ask for more money in a year's time.

Gourlay recommended making a change to the structure of the five-member marketing board, worrying that the Ketchum business community doesn't have a voice.

"I've been struggling with this, to be honest with you," he said, and recommended that the cities of Sun Valley and Ketchum and Sun Valley Co. each pick one member of the board, as planned. But the two remaining at-large positions shouldn't be up to these first three members to pick. He said a member of the chamber's board should be given the fourth position. Then, those four board members would be free to pick the last member from the community at large.

Councilwoman Nina Jonas said she was still worried about Sun Valley Resort having a designated seat and too much power. To that, Hall suggested the resort's seat be for any hotel, seeing that several four-star hotels are approved and could soon exist. Until then, Sun Valley Resort would hold the seat, since it's the only show in town.

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Four other goals

The council's four other goals for next year are reviewing the city's 2001 comprehensive plan to see what no longer applies due to the recession and the passage of time. The council also agreed that the city needs to develop an economic development plan, largely focusing on coordinating the efforts of the numerous nonprofits in this valley vowing to stimulate the economy, such as the Ketchum Community Development Corp., Sustain Blaine and Wood River Economic Partnership.

"Economic development is not defined, it's not coordinated," Councilman Larry Helzel said. "It is not rationalized and very little is happening. Somebody needs to write a roadmap guiding us from where we are to where we want to be."

He said the city could develop this guide, tasking organizations with specific projects instead of all non-profits having the vague goal of "economic development."

The final pair of goals were carryovers from this year. The first is to develop and pass a building code requiring energy-efficient buildings. The current building code doesn't address efficiency at all, but the Planning and Zoning Commission has started the effort, with a lot of work still ahead.

The last goal is to keep the balance of the city's general fund between 17 and 20 percent of total revenues. The city brought the balance up to that point this year and agreed the recession dictates being fiscally conservative into next year. The Government Finance Officers Association, a professional group of 17,500 local government finance officers in the United States and Canada, advises that a resort town's general fund be 15 percent or more of revenues.

Trevon Milliard: tmilliard@mtexpress.com




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