Friday, October 27, 2006

Vote Nov. 7 on new snow-removal equipment

By Randy Hall

The snowflakes that hint at an early ski season bring a less welcome prospect to Ketchum's Street Department: another winter of clearing streets with equipment that is older than the employees who operate it.

Voters will have an opportunity to make snow removal easier and more efficient on Nov. 7, when a $1.5 million bond issue to replace snow-removal equipment is on the ballot.

Until recently, the election would not have been necessary. The city usually would finance new equipment using a lease-purchase agreement that spreads payments over several years, just as many individuals spread car payments over several years.

These plans had to be put on hold because of a state Supreme Court decision last March requiring voter approval for cities to incur debt, whether it is a bond issue or lease-purchase agreement. November was the first date that a vote is practical. Even if this decision never occurred, it is perhaps good public policy to ask the voters to approve an amount this large.

Unfortunately, the current equipment is too old to expect it to operate reliably through this winter. At one point last year, the city waited more than three months to obtain a replacement axle because that model snow blower was assembled at the factory with surplus Army truck axles from World War II.

This means that the city this year will have to go into its cash reserves to buy a used snow blower of more recent vintage. We expect that it will cost from $75,000 to $100,000. Assuming that the bond issue passes, we will sell the city's oldest equipment next year, offsetting the cost of this year's purchase.

The reasons that Ketchum needs good snow-removal equipment should be obvious. The city's winter economy is based on skiing, and both visitors and locals expect to be able to reach the mountains easily and safely. Employees need to get to their jobs on time.

Prompt snow removal also is an important safety issue. No one wants an ambulance, fire truck or police car to be delayed because snow blocked the streets.

I have gone on record, along with all of our City Council members, as pledging that passage of the bond issues will not result in higher taxes. The city always has budgeted for snow removal. The new equipment will mean that snow can be removed faster. In fact, newer snow blowers can remove almost twice as much snow per hour as the 1957 model. The new designs also offer drivers better visibility, increasing safety.

Snow removal is critical to emergency response. Local merchants and restaurants depend on efficient snow removal during their most profitable months. The City Council joins me in urging all registered voters in Ketchum to go to the polls on Nov. 7.

Randy Hall is the mayor of Ketchum.

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