February 17, 2009 in Idaho

‘Desperate’ Sandpoint pleads for its ‘fair share’

By The Spokesman-Review

BOISE - The Sandpoint area is in “desperate” economic straits, and tourism businesses there aren’t getting their fair share of state tourism grants, the local chamber head told state lawmakers Tuesday.

Amy Little, executive director of the Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce, said, “You’ll hear that this is kind of an ‘us against them’ situation, and it’s really not - it’s really fairness and equity.”

Sandpoint has paid in far more in motel room tax than it’s gotten in tourism grants made from those tax funds over the past nine years, Little told the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee. Plus, Kootenai County residents have held the at-large and North Idaho regional seats on the Idaho Travel Council since 1995, “so that’s been 14 years that has not been shared with Bonner, Boundary, Benewah and Shoshone counties,” she said.

She and Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, proposed legislation to give counties a proportionate share of the tourism grants, rather than just allocating them by region, and requiring that the Travel Council seats rotate among residents of the various counties in each region.

Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, who represents Kootenai County, grilled Little with sharp questions about her proposal. The committee voted 6-3 to kill the bill, SB 1081, with Jorgenson siding with the majority.

Russ Westerberg, lobbyist for Hagadone Hospitality, told the committee, “In the years I’ve been around, from time to time, I see proposals … intended more to get the attention of someone somewhere. … That purpose has been served.” The current North Idaho regional representative on the Travel Council, J.J. Jaeger, works for Hagadone’s Coeur d’Alene Resort.

Reid Rogers, president of the Teton Valley Chamber of Commerce, said his community had the same problem. “I threatened to sue ‘em,” he said. But when he took his complaint to the Travel Council chairman, “They did respond and we’ve been treated well since.” He recommended Little do the same.

After the meeting, Jorgenson offered to work with Keough to re-examine how Travel Council appointments are made.

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