Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Ketchum officials press for new city hall

But funding for project is not in place

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum Police Chief Cory Lyman cringes when he goes into work, but it's not his job that gives him grief. The building he enters causes problems every day—for his department and for the other city offices located in the aging City Hall facility on East Avenue.

"The header up here is shifting," Lyman said, inspecting the Police Department's main entrance. "It's coming down and that's adjusting the door frame. (The contractor) said, 'Frankly, it's shifting down. Your building is falling in on itself.'"

Lyman said adjustments are needed approximately every 60 days on both the front and back doors, costing approximately $250 each time.

"It's going to continue to do this," he said. "The whole building is in a questionable condition."

The building began its existence as a car dealership and has been patched together with myriad repairs since it was turned into city offices in the early 1980s.

"I'm sure there's all kinds of contaminants (where the bays were)," said Ketchum Mayor Ed Simon. "We probably have all kinds of harmful chemicals, asbestos. It's not safe (and) it doesn't meet (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements. There are problems with the roof. Problems from the ground floor to the attic. It's pretty bad."

Ketchum City Council members and the mayor have increased discussions in the past couple of years on whether to build a new city hall.

Council President Randy Hall has suggested putting a bond measure to voters in November.

"That building is a dump," he said. "It needs to be leveled. We need a building equal to the needs of our community. It served its purpose well, (but) it's bursting at the seams. It's causing so much inefficiencies, it's an embarrassment."

If Ketchum builds a new city hall, the price tag could exceed $10 million, Simon said.

"Without plans and bidding it out, you just don't know," he said.

Some residents have argued for a higher priority on, and more money for, enhancements to the downtown core, community housing and other city projects.

Approximately 5.2 percent of the city's general fund budget of just over $9,080,000 is earmarked for capital improvements.

The city is also studying the viability of a downtown master plan. Money for phase one of the study has been allocated, but subsequent phases would come out of coming years' budgets.

If voters approve a bond measure for a new city hall, taxpayer support could dwindle for other projects.

In the meantime, the police station is undergoing a $23,000 remodel, funded by drugs seizure money. If a bond were passed to build a new city hall, Lyman said, it would be years before a new police station is ready.

"Functionally, it's just not working for us," Lyman said. "It's embarrassing. Frankly, I'm ashamed to bring people in here."

Lyman climbed the outside stairs leading to other city offices and the police dispatch center.

"During my two-and-a-half years here I've seen four (city employees) with casts," Lyman said.

No elevator leading to upstairs offices means a slow and laborious climb for those with casts or disabilities. Winter months mean a more dangerous climb when ice and snow cover the stairs.

Public access to city departments is also deficient: disabled members of the public who need to talk with city staff must wait downstairs for employees to meet with them. Even then, there's no meeting room for discussions.

"Everybody in the city has to have access to government," Lyman said.

City halls are "Priority One" buildings: structures that the federal government determined need to be standing in case of emergencies or disasters, said Susan Bille, dispatch supervisor. As such, newly built city halls have to conform to more rigorous earthquake and building requirements than other edifices.

Older city halls, however, don't have to abide by those rules. But retrofitting to get in line with current accepted safety standards would be an expensive proposition.

"It's cheaper to build a new building" than to retrofit it, Simon said.

Federal rules also affect the way Ketchum City Clerk Sandra Cady does her job.

"We need more storage room for files and security for those files," she said.

HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, established safeguards that protect people's health information.

"You have to safeguard it so all of that information should be under lock and key and in a fireproof vault," Cady said.

She said the city has a couple of fireproof cabinets but space is limited for additional ones.

The city owns property adjacent to City Hall and council members have tossed around the idea of constructing a multi-building complex that could include park space and community housing.

"We could vacate Fifth Street and move the Ore Wagon Museum," Simon said.

The city earlier this year had the option of acquiring a parcel of land in the downtown area near the Ketchum Post Office for a new city hall.

But the council turned down a proposal by the Simplot family to sell at a reduced price a part of their land that is now set for multi-use development.

Council members were cool to the idea of moving City Hall from its current site, citing a site selection committee's determination that public sentiment backed keeping City Hall where it is.

"Public comment was pretty consistent," Simon said.

Several payment options are available, but ultimately taxpayers would foot the bill.

A general obligation bond, which goes against property taxes, would require a super majority to pass, Simon said.

A lease-purchase agreement might be more palatable to the public than a general obligation bond, he said, but it would still require yearly payments that would likely come from the city's general fund.

Another option is a revenue bond, which is taken from revenues generated from other city resources, Simon said. That option would take funds away from other city projects, though.

"The challenges are how to pull it off," Lyman said. "I don't think anyone argues it doesn't need to be done. What are we going to do, and where and how and what time frames?"

Simon said no decision is imminent.

"We would have a discussion and public hearings before we decide to proceed," he said.

For Lyman, there are two simple choices and one clear answer.

"You can do it wisely and with planning," Lyman said, "or you can have a judge order you to do it."

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