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Air service group argues for surcharge in Mammoth

August 17, 2012

John Urdi at Twin Lakes in March 2012. Photo/George Shirk

It is going to take about $1.2 million a year to maintain year-round air service and Mammoth’s tourism chief thinks the best way to pay for it is to add a small fee to every transaction to go toward an air-service fund.

“Business improvement districts,” or BIDs, are a common way for groups of business owners and/or community members to raise money for a specific project, said Mammoth Lake Tourism Director John Urdi.
 
“Let’s think about a BID, a way to put a 0.5 percent surcharge (or fifty cents for every $100 spent) on most transactions, like lodging and food and retail products, that we could then target toward air service and eliminate the need to scramble every year to find funding,” he said.
 
He said such a surcharge would be mostly paid for by visitors—added to the bill they got for their meal or their room—but local residents would also contribute toward the fund, whenever they spent money within the borders of the BID.
 
It’s similar to the more familiar “resort fee,” he said, except this surcharge would be targeted only toward maintaining year-round air service.
 
For the years when fewer subsidies are needed—say in a banner snow year when the airlines have no problems filling seats and need few or no subsidies—the surcharge money would be left in the account as a hedge against inevitable dry winters to come, he said. At all times, at least several hundred-thousand dollars of the annual surcharge revenues would go toward marketing Mono County and Mammoth, to make sure as little air service subsidies as possible are required.
 
The benefit would be a long-term sustainable commitment to year-around air service, with some of the $1.2 million always used for marketing, he said.
 
Creating a BID can happen when business owners who generate at least 50 percent plus one of the revenue coming into the community vote to create such a district. 
 
In Mammoth’s case, it might only take a few business owners, since just getting Mammoth Mountain and Snowcreek and Sierra Nevada Lodge on board would go a long way toward achieving that 50 percent number, Urdi said. If other business owners don’t want the surcharge to be levied against their customers, they don’t have the choice to withdraw from the BID—in other words, the vote makes the surcharge mandatory for everyone within the borders of the BID.
 
Urdi is one of several members of the newly formed Eastern Sierra Air Alliance group, composed of Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, the Airport Commission members, the Town of Mammoth Lakes, and Mono County.
 
That group came into existence earlier this year and will be the group educating businesses about the hoped-for BID.

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