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For the week of Nov. 10, 1999 through Nov. 16, 1999

Different cultures, different values: a divided Blaine County dumps the rec bond

Express Staff Writer

For the second time this year, Blaine County voters rejected a bond measure that would have triggered a property tax increase.

In both the Save Our Open Spaces election last May and last week’s vote on the Community Recreation Bond, the results—overwhelming defeats—pointed to deep divisions between the north and south areas of Blaine County.

Both campaigns served to underscore how difficult it is to gain a required two-thirds majority in an area so diverse: a vast county accented by an agricultural lifestyle of the south contrasted with the tourist-driven economy of the north.

"We all knew a super majority would be difficult to achieve," Blaine County Recreation District director Mary Austin Crofts said in an interview. "We have a very diverse community—people want different things."

Support for both measures dropped dramatically south of Hailey, revealing what Sun Valley Mayor Tom Praggastis called "an economic divide."

"The north county has the affluence that enables it to pay and the south county doesn’t," he said.

If approved, the $11.85 million bond issue would have funded construction of three major projects located in the northern half of the county and lesser projects in the south.

Praggastis said the perception of south county residents was that the bond measure was too expensive.

"It’s not so much the fact that the north would get more out of the bond, but that the bond would result in the added burden of another tax," he said.

Crofts said lack of support in the south county was a matter of values and economic priorities.

"In the south, people are struggling to keep their ranches and farms and don’t want new taxes," Crofts said. "It comes down to a hierarchy of value—people in the south are more concerned with their livelihood than recreational opportunities."

Crofts’ point was dramatized by the fact that in the Gannett-Picabo district, 86 percent voted against the rec bond, while 93 percent rejected the measure in Carey.

According to Crofts, misconceptions surrounding the measure may also have influenced the vote south of Hailey.

"They very definitely got the wrong message," Crofts said. "They thought we were going to come in there and build something without their involvement." However, Crofts added, "our intention was to give something back to those communities and involve them in deciding what would be best for them."

In Bellevue, the bond issue received a meager 40 percent approval rating.

"It was too much pie in the sky….the price tag was too big for the size of the pop we would have here," Bellevue Mayor Steve Fairbrother said.

In the tiny farming community of Yale, located in the southernmost part of the county, the rec bond was unanimously rejected by seven residents who voted by absentee ballot.

Sugar beet farmer Blaine Cook of Yale said the bond’s recreation facilities would be good for the youth of Blaine County, but that he and his neighbors wouldn’t get anything out of it except a tax hike.

Keith Perry, the recreation district board president, noted the strong support for the bond among north county voters. But when two-thirds approval is mandated, that’s not good enough.

"A countywide super majority (two-thirds approval) is tough enough," Perry said, "but when you get little support in the south you need over 80 percent in the north" to pass the measure.

As for the future, Perry said the recreation district was considering putting the measure before voters again.

"We’re going to look at the ‘no’ votes and see what we can do to get them to support the bond and make another run at it, either in this form or another form," Perry said in an interview.

"We think it’s doable, but we won’t go forward unless people who supported the bond are in favor of giving it another try and we can get some positive feedback from people who voted ‘no.’"

Throughout the campaign, rec officials stressed the importance of educating the public about the measure. Crofts said people who didn’t learn about the bond had already made up their minds to vote against a property-tax increase.

"With people who learned about the bond, who came out to the meetings and participated in the surveys, we were confident we could get a ‘yes’ vote," she said.

Crofts said the bond’s downfall may have been that people didn’t perceive the measure as a countywide issue, but were only concerned with how individual facilities would benefit their turf.

"A lot of people in Ketchum and Sun Valley said they wouldn’t support the Community Recreation Center because they didn’t want to drive to Hailey," Crofts said. "And people in Hailey said the same thing about the pool in Ketchum.

"I wish we could start thinking of ourselves as one big community, but the communities of the Wood River Valley are very independent and diverse."


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Copyright 1999 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited.