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Wood River Valley community members start PAC for housing election

Rachel Cohen
Boise State Public Radio

Some Wood River Valley community members have started a political action committee before a May election that could increase public funds for housing.

Ketchum, Sun Valley and Hailey are asking voters to support repurposing a portion of the tax revenue used to attract flights to the tourism area to housing for locals.

Wendy Jaquet, a former state Democratic Representative from Ketchum, is coordinating the campaign called Yes for Housing & Air.

She said the advocacy effort was derived after a similar election in Ketchum last year failed to get enough support from voters; 53% said they were in favor of increasing parts of the local option sales tax to raise money for housing, but a 60% threshold was needed. That means housing is still not a legal use of local option tax revenue.

Under Idaho law, cities and taxing districts are allowed to educate voters, but cannot advocate for bonds and levies themselves. Yes for Housing & Air is made up of business owners and involved community members. Alongside Jaquet, former Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett is listed as the treasurer.

In this year’s attempt to raise money for housing, Ketchum is not proposing to increase the tax rate but to siphon half of the revenue from the existing 1% tax for air service to go to housing.

Also new this year: the cities of Sun Valley and Hailey are joining Ketchum in asking voters to support very similar measures. If it passes in all three cities the, effort could generate more than $2 million for housing in the valley each year.

The PAC has raised more than $17,000 so far, and a citizens committee is organizing the outreach.

“We have a good list of endorsements of people supporting the measures from all three cities, as well as we’re growing a business list, so we’re feeling pretty positive,” she said.

The biggest donation has been $9,561 from the Wood River Tourism Coalition. The non-profit lists John Curnow, the general manager of the Limelight Hotel, as its registered agent and includes an address associated with the Visit Sun Valley tourism agency. Visit Sun Valley is funded in part by Ketchum and Sun Valley, but Jaquet said donations made up the gift to the campaign.

Even though the money for recruiting flights full of tourists would go down if this measure were to pass, there could be even less to work with if it fails. That’s because the air service taxes in Ketchum and Sun Valley expire at the end of this year without an extension from voters.

Ketchum’s question for voters at the ballot ties the air service and housing funding together, whereas Sun Valley is separating those components into two questions.

In public comments, some opposed to the cities’ ideas think the community should do away with the air service tax altogether. Others are concerned about how the money will be spent and want the funds to go exclusively to workforce housing, as opposed to “affordable” housing.

The election is May 16 and early voting begins May 1.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio

As the south-central Idaho reporter, I cover the Magic and Wood River valleys. I also enjoy writing about issues related to health and the environment.

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