Mt. Moriah tour buses to see 100 percent admission increase
DEADWOOD — Citing concern with mounting costs to maintain the city’s historic cemeteries, Deadwood city commissioners Monday voted to stick by a Feb. 1, 2016 decision to institute a 100 percent adult admission increase on three privately owned Mt. Moriah bus tours, taking adult admission from $1 to $2.
The fee hike has already been in place for visitors to Mt. Moriah who chose to walk up the hill for the past two seasons, but based on a request to give the tour bus operators time to honor advance contracts and to make preparations for the increase, that increase did not go into effect for the tour buses until this year.
In letters to Boot Hill Tours, Original Deadwood Tours, and Alkali Ike Tours dated Sept. 12, 2016, City Finance Officer Mary Jo Nelson informed the tour bus operators that on Sept. 6, 2016, the city commission voted to give notice that fees for Mt. Moriah admission by tour bus will be equal to those charged for all other patrons, as of Jan. 1, 2018, specifying that the current rate is $2 for adults and children under 13 are free.
Ron Pray of Boot Hill Tours and Mike Kitzmiller of Alkali Ike Tours addressed the commission Monday requesting that the body rescind the previous motion to increase the Mt. Moriah tour bus fee from $1 to $2, effective in 2018 and leave rates unchanged.
“Last year I paid the city approximately $15,000 for Mt. Moriah admissions fees,” Pray said. “With a $2 per adult pricing in 2018, this will mean I will be paying around $30,000 to the city to operate my tour bus service. Additionally, I will be paying 8 percent sales tax on this $30,000, which amounts to $2,400. The 100 percent increase in Mt. Moriah fees will significantly impact my margins.”
Kitzmiller said that in order to accommodate the rate increase, he and Boot Hill Tours principals upped their admission prices for the 2017 season to $12 for adults, $10 for veterans and seniors, $5 for children 6 to 13 and free admission for kids under 6.
“We got a lot of pushback from customers,” Kitzmiller said. “We think we’re probably about as high as we think we can go in charging the public.”
Kitzmiller asked the commission to consider keeping the admission at $1 for adults and charging $1 for children ages 6 to 13, instead of free admission for this age group, as a way for the city to gain a little extra money.
“It is customary to give a lower price for large volume purchases versus a single customer purchase. I would request that you consider a group discount based on the fact that I take large amounts of people through Mt. Moriah,” Pray said. “My business provides a valuable service to our visitors and to the city of Deadwood. It is important to me to be a good ambassador for Deadwood.”
After 20 minutes of discussion, Commissioner Charlie Struble made a motion to take the fee from $1 to $1.50. The motion died for lack of a majority vote (2-2) with Mayor Chuck Turbiville and Dave Ruth casting dissenting votes.
Turbiville said the tour buses were welcome to make the request again at the next meeting, when Commissioner Mark Speirs might be in attendance.
Commissioner Gary Todd said the fee increase is to help maintain the cemetery so that the tour buses have something very attractive to show their patrons.
Kitzmiller pointed out that the Mt. Moriah tours by bus don’t cost anything to the city of Deadwood.
“We cover all our own expenses,” he said.
Commissioner Dave Ruth said the choice the commission made two years ago to raise the admission cost to the cemetery is also to help cover expenses at St. Ambrose Cemetery.
“If there were no tour buses going through Mt. Moriah, we wouldn’t have to do maintenance on the road because it would be foot traffic only,” Ruth said.
Kitzmiller said the road was not paved in order to accommodate tour buses, but, instead, to eliminate the gravel road.
“My understanding is, they designed it and paved it to accommodate tour buses,” said Deadwood Historic Preservation Officer Kevin Kuchenbecker.
City Finance Officer Mary Jo Nelson pointed to a historic study that was done in years past that recommended no motorized vehicles be allowed in the cemetery because it is hard on the head stones.
“You’ve got a good product and the intent is not to put businesses in jeopardy, but if we don’t prepare for the future and take care of that historic resource, we’ll end up spending another $2, $3, $4 million to get it back into shape,” Todd said. “There is a hard expense to that attraction.”
Kitzmiller pointed out that the largest number of visitors to Mt. Moriah are walk-ins.
“Most of the traffic is foot traffic,” Kitzmiller pointed out.
“True, but not in a giant bus with a lot of weight,” Ruth said.
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