Ethics panel ruling may shelve Snowshoe expansion plans
December 05, 2003 4:43 AM
Two of the three Pocahontas County commissioners can't vote on Snowshoe Mountain Resort's plans to use a state tax break to fund expansion because of potential conflicts of interest.
That's what the state Ethics Commission ruled yesterday.
Among other improvements, Snowshoe wants to build a new convention center. It wants to pay for the project with a tax increment financing plan.
The so-called TIF plan would use property taxes from the new development to pay off bonds that would fund construction. The county commission must approve the arrangement.
But the Ethics Commission says a county commission vote would violate state law.
Commissioner Reta Griffith's husband is employed at Snowshoe. Also Commission President Joel Callison is part-owner of a condominium and other property near the ski resort.
The panel says state criminal law bars county officials from having any private interest in public contracts.
Having said that, the potential expansion could have a great positive impact on the community. It could mean more tourists who are going to spend more money both on and just outside the resort. This means more jobs for residents and higher property value. Its a tough line to draw
Why would localities do this? Because long-term, it usually pays off for them in the form of tax revenues and residual benefits for the community.
In the case of a large resort like Snowshoe, it's a safe bet that Snowshoe pays more taxes than any other company in Pocahontas County. They're the largest employer there. (And that also adds up to a lot of taxes on the employee wages.) The success of Snowshoe has driven up property values for many residents of the county.
But elected officials make these decisions, and they work at the pleasure of the residents they serve. It's really a community issue. JonS is right that ski areas have "roots" in the sense that they can't easily get up and move. But the companies that own them can. (And what resorts today are still independently owned?) Snowshoe has undergone a renaissance since it was purchased by Intrawest -- Intrawest has pumped in tens of millions of dollars into the resort. They're not doing it out of a sense of goodwill -- Intrawest has a ticker symbol on the stock market, after all. But in deciding whether they can make a go with a resort like Snowshoe -- and put the necessary investments into it -- they have to examine situations like taxes in the county, the quality of county roads, etc. I think most would argue that Pocahontas County has benefitted from the Intrawest purchase, but again, that's a community issue and up to the residents and their elected officials to decide the cost/benefit ratio of offering incentives.