Friday, October 21, 2011

Ketchum and Sun Valley should convene marketing summit

Remember the time less than two years ago that the mayors of Ketchum and Sun Valley and their city councils held hands, sang Kumbayah, created a new Sun Valley Marketing Alliance board and engaged it to promote tourism?

Remember when the cities dug deep, found money to increase their paltry expenditures on marketing and acknowledged that the cities, businesses and homeowners alike depend on tourism?

It was share and share alike. Each city kicked in nearly $400,000 to create an $800,000 marketing fund and gave a lot of lip to building the fund up closer to $1 million a year.

The warmth and good feeling didn't last long. The budget year that just began found the city of Sun Valley cutting its $390,000 contract with the Marketing Alliance by 10 percent or $40,000. The cut was imposed even though the city's local-option sales tax revenues are forecast to come in just under the previous year by $6,600.

The city of Ketchum responded with $450,000 for marketing, a 12.5 percent increase, to make up the difference.

Sun Valley Mayor Wayne Willich blamed the cuts on property tax increases by Blaine County—even though marketing is funded with local-option tourism sales taxes. Councilman Dewayne Briscoe said any tax increase was unpalatable.

In an August meeting, Councilman Bob Youngman said Ketchum should spend more on marketing, that businesses as a group should pay more and that Sun Valley should not have to play as big a role.

Ketchum officials aren't buying it and are criticizing Sun Valley officials for marketing cuts.

The situation is deplorable.

The city of Sun Valley is making the fledgling Sun Valley Marketing Alliance a political pawn.

To what end? So the city of Sun Valley may exert power over the budget decisions of Blaine County and the city of Ketchum? To put the squeeze on local retailers already pounded black and blue by the economy and stingy public spending on marketing even when times were good?

Cutting marketing is a fool's exercise that could boomerang.

If less investment in marketing leads to lower local-option tourism sales tax revenues, that won't help anyone. In fact, it's likely to result in a downward spiral of fewer visitors, less business, fewer tax receipts and even less spending on marketing. That could result in higher property taxes and lower property values on vacation homes—an awful combination.

Ketchum and Sun Valley officials need to convene a new marketing summit, look at real-world facts and work out their differences. The local economy's still on the rocks, and bad decisions about marketing could dash it to smithereens.

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