Friday, May 26, 2006

Weighty issues draw Hailey voters to polls

Mayor says initiative's defeat validates her administration

Express Staff Writer

Perhaps the most significant outcome of Tuesday's elections in Hailey was the much higher voter turnout compared to last year's city elections.

Altogether, 877 registered Hailey voters came to the polls Tuesday to make their opinions known on a request for a local option tax (LOT) ordinance and an initiative seeking a change in the form of Hailey city government.

Hailey currently has 3,385 registered voters, which means that 26 percent of registered voters in the city either turned up at the polls Tuesday or submitted an absentee ballot beforehand. That compares to only 85 Hailey voters who turned out for last year's municipal election in November.

When it was all said and done Tuesday Hailey voters approved the LOT by a significant 597-to-268 vote margin and rejected a proposed change from a Mayor-City Council style of city government to a City Council- City Manager form of government by a similar 586-to-278 vote margin. Former Hailey Mayor Al Lindley proposed the change in government.

Under the approved LOT ordinance, businesses in Hailey subject to it will have to begin collecting taxes July 1 on sales receipts from rental vehicles, hotel and motel rooms, liquor by the drink and restaurant food. The tax is estimated to raise $326,250 in funds annually that will be used to pay for things like Hailey infrastructure improvement projects, emergency services, public transit and city promotion.

"My goodness, those results are overwhelming," Hailey Chamber of Commerce executive director Jim Spinelli said Thursday. "Those results aren't close by any means."

Spinelli and the Hailey Chamber of Commerce worked with the city government to promote passage of the LOT ordinance.

The importance of the issues considered by Hailey voters likely led to the higher turnout, Spinelli said. "They showed me they are interested in what goes on around them," he said. "My kudos to the people of Hailey. I'm just excited that that many people turned out."

Hailey Mayor Susan McBryant was equally pleased.

"People are more inclined to vote when the issues matter to them personally," McBryant said.

The approval of the LOT initiative will provide the city with more of a funding cushion, she said. "And suddenly be able to provide a fuller service."

McBryant didn't pull any punches in regards to drawing conclusions from the change in government vote. She noted that the margin of vote on Tuesday closely mirrors that of her win over Lindley in the 2003 mayoral race.

"I think there is a strong message there," McBryant said.

For his part, Lindley was the only person interviewed to express dismay with the total number of voters who turned out.

Lindley said he will be watching to see if the city is able to hire a city administrator as they have suggested they will.

"I think it will be interesting to see if they can hire a true professional as a city administrator," he said. "Whether someone will want to work for them."

Hailey voters questioned about the vote also had much to say Wednesday.

"My main concern was the city manager thing," 20-year Hailey resident Julie Ward said. "I myself haven't seen that there is a problem with the mayorship."

Ward said she voted against the proposed change in Hailey government, but didn't place a vote on the LOT because she hadn't researched the issue well enough. Still, she said she is pleased with the way the LOT vote went.

"The way it went makes sense to me," Ward said.

Robert Foster of Hailey said he voted for the LOT and against the proposed change in government. The LOT was his primary concern, Foster said.

"It was an issue absolutely. I think we need more revenue," he said. All one has to do is go out and look at the condition of many of Hailey's streets and sidewalks to see that the LOT funds are needed, he added.

Like Ward, Foster said he didn't understand why the city should switch forms of government.

On the other side of the vote, Hailey born and raised resident Wynn Bird said she voted against the LOT and for the change in government. Bird said she thinks a city manager would be more insulated from the day-to-day politics a mayor is subject to and could get things done more smoothly.

Unlike a professionally trained and hired city manager, those who enter the political arena have their own personal agendas to contend with, she said. "Most people run for mayor because they have one specific thing in mind they want to accomplish," Bird said.

Rapid growth in Hailey is what concerns Bird most, she said. "I just wish Hailey would slow down."

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