Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Supreme Court decision prompts bond debate

Ketchum could bond for $1.5 million

Express Staff Writer

Millions of dollars' worth of equipment is needed to keep Ketchum's streets clear year-round, but a Supreme Court ruling has made it, and cities statewide, search for other options to pay for the means to do so.

In the Idaho Supreme Court decision, "City of Boise v. David Frazier," the Court ruled that a municipality cannot go into debt without voter approval.

Cities like Ketchum frequently enter into lease-purchase agreements for major equipment like street sweepers and snow blowers.

Ketchum officials are scrambling to find a way to replace equipment, including two snow blowers that broke down last year.

A general obligation bond is one way to come up with the money. It could go to vote Nov. 7 and must be approved by two-thirds of voters to go into effect.

"When you go to vote of the people, they're authorizing you to raise their taxes," said City Administrator Ron LeBlanc. "But the council would not raise taxes. Instead ... this would be paying our debt services account."

The city set up that account to borrow money from itself.

The pieces of equipment the city deems most critical to replace are a 1957 snow blower, a 1985 snow blower, a 1988 grader and a 1985 loader. The replacement cost for all those items could run $1.5 million. The city also uses a 1987 snow blower.

"We still refer to the 1987 one as the 'new' snow blower," LeBlanc said.

The city is implementing a plan to start saving for such big-ticket items, but the money won't be available next year, he added.

If the bond were approved, it would take at least six months for new equipment to be delivered.

"We need a used piece of equipment for a back-up this winter," LeBlanc said.

The city has to announce a special election 45 days prior to the election day.

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