Local Marketing District comes under scrutiny in wake of sales tax | SteamboatToday.com

Local Marketing District comes under scrutiny in wake of sales tax

— The board of the Local Marketing District, which makes decisions about how to spend public and private funds used to secure commercial airline service into Yampa Valley Regional Airport, began a new era Friday by promising increased transparency and public outreach.

LMD board member Chuck Porter said the group's move to City Council chambers in Centennial Hall at the city's request signaled the change. New public interest in the affairs of the LMD and how it works with the airlines is coming to the forefront this year as the city begins collecting a 0.25 percent general sales tax approved by voters in November. The tax, estimated to generate $1.3 million annually, was sold to voters as a way to maintain and even build passenger capacity on ski-season flights into and out of YVRA.

"This is a true partnership, and we encourage you to attend," Porter told the audience at Friday's meeting. "We may be required to go into executive session at times because there are contracts that have to be discussed with some confidentiality. But we intend to operate with as much transparency as possible."

A handful of the dozen or so members of the public who showed up at Centennial Hall on Friday had specific points to make during the public comment portion of the meeting.

The LMD will advertise a special public meeting on Feb. 7 to consider a replacement for board member Bob Milne, who resigned after leaving the valley to take a new job. Mark Scully wasted little time standing up and expressing his interest in the opening on the board and added that he thinks the board needs to go further in presenting information to the public.

"I support this very much," Scully said. "The public/private collaboration is critical. I'd like to know, where is the money coming from and where is it going, and what is it really translating into? It's a lot of money. To me, the key is a scorecard. To me, it seems there should be a website."

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Ken Solomon asked that the LMD board consider broadening membership to represent the entire city.

"You're receiving 50 percent of your (public) revenues from the new tax, and my understanding is there are only 600 eligible voters who live in the LMD out of about 8,000 voters in the city," Solomon said. "It strikes me as unfair."

LMD legal counsel Tom Sharp told Solomon that the requirement that members of the board be registered voters who live within the boundaries of the local marketing district is decreed by state statute and that the LMD has no power to change it. He added that when the LMD was created by City Council, it had the option to make itself the board of the LMD or to create the five-member board of LMD voters.

Steamboat businessman Steve Hitchcock told the board he thinks the LMD should pursue additional air service outside the ski season.

"With the new tax coming on and collected by businesses outside the LMD, I'd like to see the LMD take on the task of summer air," Hitchcock said.

Porter replied that summer air service is on the LMD board's agenda. Porter added that the revenues from the new tax will first be applied for the 2012-13 ski season.

At the city's urging, public meeting notices for the LMD board now will be posted outside City Hall, at City Market and at the post office, as well as in a vestibule outside the Chamber's offices at 125 Anglers Drive.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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