Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Mayor breaks tie to approve Ketchum budget

4.5 employees added to city pay roll

Express Staff Writer

After nearly a dozen meetings to comb through and finesse the numbers, the city of Ketchum has approved a budget for the coming fiscal year.

Mayor Ed Simon cast the tie-breaking vote to approve the appropriations ordinance that set the general fund budget at $9,080,784 for fiscal year 2005-2006.

Councilmen Baird Gourlay and Ron Parsons voted to approve the budget. Councilwoman Terry Tracy and Council President Randy Hall cast votes against it.

"I'm not supportive of what's in front of me," Tracy said. "I really felt that last year we made inroads getting our hands around this budget and we didn't get totally out of line. I just see coming down the road increases in benefits and telling employees we have to go shopping again (for different health care plans)."

The general fund allocation doesn't reflect all city expenses. Water and wastewater funds, a sales-tax fund and other funds are listed as separate line items.

The general fund covers all of the city's costs of general operations, including all city government departments except water and sewer.

The self-supporting water and wastewater funds came in at just under $5,540,000, with an additional anticipated sales tax revenue fund at $2.4 million.

The total budget amount approved is $18,226,868.

The general fund budget includes four and a half new employees added to the city's payroll.

"My heartburn over the budget comes in the big picture," Council President Randy Hall said Tuesday. "I wanted to know what the long-term effects are going to be. Adding four and a half employees ... that's a permanent addition. The impacts of that will be with us in perpetuity."

The city should have a better system for adding full-time employees, he said.

"We need to screen better and find out if the needs are truly there," he said.

Rather than more employees, Hall said, the city's capital improvement plan should be the recipient of additional funds.

He added that he was uncomfortable with revenue predictions, such as $100,000 from the city of Sun Valley for emergency services.

"I think it's premature to put that into our budget," he said.

Tracy noted that the council asked the Parks Department to cut $40,000 from their preliminary budget request, but council members didn't make the same request from other departments.

"The attitude is, we saved all this money (in last year's budget), so let's go spend it," Tracy said.

Simon defended the staffing increase.

"We're putting more obligations on departments that operate with just one person," he said. Growth-related construction, for instance, requires more people in the Building Department, he added.

"They just can't do the job they're asked to do without additional staff," he said. "The public demands good service, and if we don't (provide it), we hear from them."

Councilman Baird Gourlay noted that new fees would help offset some of the expenses, and that bringing work in house is cheaper in the long run.

"I don't have any problem with the number of people we added because we were either using outside resources or paying overtime," he said. "We're paying the right number of people for the right number of jobs. I don't think it's all that many people when you look at the services we're providing and we have to provide."

Councilman Ron Parsons voiced support for the expenditures.

"I think it's all just part of doing business," he said. "It's just pieces of the puzzle that keep the infrastructure and the city working. It's necessary if we're going to try to run a progressive city."

Only two members of the public commented on the budget during the public hearing.

Idaho Mountain Express Publisher Pam Morris said the budget was an improvement over previous years' in that it is more logical and readable.

She said it was problematic, however, that nearly two-thirds of the funds are tagged for employee salaries and benefits, with a much smaller fraction going to capital improvements.

She said the city pays out more for insurance than area businesses because city employees' families receive benefits as well.

"The lion's share of the budget increase ... is going to salaries and benefits," Morris said. "Just 5.2 percent is allocated to capital improvements. There ought to be more. There's a structural problem that exists."

"Remember," she added, "when all is said and done, you're in the tourist business and you need to invest in it."

Engineer Dick Fosbury said providing insurance to employees and their families facilitates retention.

"This insurance thing is affecting us all," he said. "But if you don't compete and let people know you're protecting them ... that's really important to staying staffed up."

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