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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of November 20 - 26, 2002

News

What lies ahead for Bellevue?

City Council struggles with growth issues


By GREGORY FOLEY
Express Staff Writer

Times are changing in Bellevue, and no one is more aware of that than the six members of the Bellevue City Council.

The panel addressed a lengthy agenda Thursday that covered issues ranging from assessing the state of the city’s finances to considering numerous fee hikes for various city services. No major legislation was produced, but discussions repeatedly made one point painfully clear: the city is experiencing growing pains, perhaps like never before.

In recent months, council members have heard that the city’s water and sewer systems need various upgrades, the parks need work that city staffers don’t have time to do, and the computer system in Bellevue City Hall is sufficiently old and problematic that city employees can’t access certain databases pertaining to the city budget.

Clear solutions are usually apparent, but council members—and Mayor John Barton—are all mindful of one governing concern: most actions require money, and the city’s income is limited.

Moreover, new business and development plans are being proposed on a regular basis, lending credence to assumptions that more and more people will soon reside within the city boundaries, placing additional strain on city facilities, services and staff.

The council has been active in recent months, passing legislation to purchase open space, encourage the installation of water meters, and adopt a new Comprehensive Plan to assist in future planning and land-use decisions. The panel has also shown support for the city to establish its own Internet site.

In addition, certain members of the council have taken leading roles in other matters pertaining to the city, particularly negotiations with the City of Hailey and Blaine County over the city’s area-of-city-impact boundaries—which will in part define how much the city will grow.

Council members are currently reviewing proposed legislation to change the city’s requirements for parking provided by businesses and residential developments—an initiative sparked by Barton’s desire to make downtown Bellevue more business friendly.

However, the abundance of issues already before the council that could shape the future of Bellevue prompted a call for action Thursday by Councilwoman Tammy Schofield.

"We need to create a vision plan for the city," she said, essentially challenging the panel to look at the myriad of growth-related challenges in an integrated fashion, not as piecemeal agenda items.

The comment came as council members reviewed an audit report on the city’s financial status and practices during the 2001-2002 fiscal year, which closed on Sept. 30.

The report provided generally good news, but aroused concern among some council members because of an apparent lack of funds for large improvement projects.

Curtis Stoker, a financial specialist hired to do the audit, told council members that the city has greatly improved its financial status in recent years, but still does not have an abundance of cash funds that could be used for new projects the city doesn’t typically include in its annual budget.

Stoker said most of the city’s assets are based in the value of its utilities systems, and also warned that the city has only "limited opportunities" for increasing the amount of money it brings in to its General Fund each year.

However, Stoker told council members that the city generally maintains an adequate cash flow to pay its bills. In addition, he noted that the coming years will be important ones for the city in how it manages growth and conducts its business.

"The city of Hailey went through a lot of growth in the last 10 years, and Bellevue is knocking on that same door," he said.

Stoker’s assessment is likely correct. Bellevue’s new Comprehensive Plan—approved and adopted by the council in late September—estimates that the city will be built out by 2006, and will more than double in population by 2020.

The current estimated population of the city is 1,980.

Following the audit presentation Thursday, council members unanimously approved—with Council Wayne Douthit abstaining—a proposal by city bookkeeper Lori Turner for the city to purchase three new computers and a new accounting software system for offices in city hall.

Council members subsequently gave a vote of support to resident Martin Chandler to enter into negotiations with the county to purchase a downtown parcel that includes the Wood River Fire and Rescue building—part of which the city could lease for its own fire department.

However, amid lingering concerns over how the city will fund future projects to accommodate growth, council members deferred any decisive action on proposals to increase fees for services pertaining to the Planning and Zoning Commission and for certain entities to use city parks.

Councilman Parke Mitchell was particularly concerned with whether the city was generally charging enough money for its services to pay for programs—and perhaps save enough to implement new plans.

Barton summed up the meeting—and the city’s overall position—in one brief comment. "I wish we could solve all of our problems in one night, but we’re not going to," he said.

 

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