Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Ballot issues: Lots of bang for few bucks

Valley voters will address two referendum questions and one tax hike at the polls next Tuesday.

Blaine County voters will decide whether to give the County Commissioners a green light to build a new jail.

Ketchum voters will be asked to weigh in on leasing city property to the YMCA for development of a recreation center. They will also be asked to decide on a property tax increase to pay for cemetery improvements.

Below are the Express?s recommendations on each issue.

Readers may look for candidate endorsements in the Friday edition of the Express and are invited to attend tonight?s Pizza and Politics forum at the old Blaine County Courthouse in Hailey at 6 p.m. to hear the candidates for Blaine County Sheriff and the Idaho House of Representatives.

Yes on the Blaine County Jail

Voters should approve Blaine County?s plan to build a new county jail without raising taxes.

The County Commissioners want to spend between $380,000 and $500,000 a year from existing tax revenue to construct a $10 million jail on property it already owns near the airport.

The commissioners could do so without asking voters, but they were right to seek approval.

The need for a new jail has been evident for a long time. The existing jail is too small and dilapidated to serve one of the fastest growing counties in Idaho.

Withholding approval of the plan would be pennywise and pound-foolish. The longer the county goes without a new jail, the more taxpayers will spend every year on an inefficient patchwork of inadequate and perhaps dangerous substitutes?including paying high fees to house and transport inmates awaiting trial to and from distant jails in other counties.

Refusal to approve a new jail won?t punish criminals, but it will surely punish taxpayers pocketbooks over time.

The proposal deserves a resounding ?yes? vote.

Yes on YMCA lease

Ketchum should lease 1.5 acres of its 5.9-acre Park and Ride lot to the YMCA for $1 a year for 99 years. It?s a win-win deal for recreation users and city taxpayers.

The city purchased the property specifically for development of recreational and cultural facilities years ago, but never came up with a plan to develop them with city money. If the YMCA plan goes forward, the city won?t need to.

If the city leases the property, the YMCA says it can raise $16 million in private funds to build a recreation center there that includes two pools, a hockey rink that converts to an events arena, and a gym. It has raised $6 million to date.

The Y would operate the facility with money generated from sales of memberships, day-use and group fees, and funding drives. The city would have no responsibility for operating costs.

Development consultants hired by the YMCA at the city?s request concluded that the project is financially feasible and created a business plan for its success.

The plan is a quintessential public-private partnership that has the endorsement of the bean counters among us.

If Ketchum voters want pools, a hockey rink, a gym and space for public events, they should run, not walk to the polls to tell the city they support the project. Otherwise, another project like this likely will not come down the road for a very long time, if ever.

Yes on Ketchum Cemetery upgrade

People keep dying, but Ketchum?s Cemetery has seen little in the way of expansion or improvement in recent memory. With an annual budget of just $33,750. the Ketchum Cemetery District is able to do little more than keep the grass mowed, the snow plowed and the fences in good repair.

District directors propose a temporary two-year tax hike that would increase taxes from $4 per year to $55 per year on a property valued at $400,000 per year. With the $1 million generated, the district could build a structure to inter ashes, develop more burial plots and build a small amphitheater, office and parking area.

It?s little enough to spend for a whole lot of improvements that should help accommodate the crowds headed in the cemetery?s direction.

And unlike death, this tax is set to be temporary, a promise the district should keep.

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