Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Reining in the resources

Grant process tops goals for Sun Valley budget

Express Staff Writer

Overshadowed by the emotional public comment that surrounded the discussion of Sun Valley's financial support for the Wood River Community YMCA, the City Council recommended the creation of a new process for the awarding of grants.

At a special meeting on Thursday, May 1, the council discussed mid-year budget adjustments and goals for 2008, though no official actions will be taken until the next meeting on May 15.

The council chamber was filled to standing-room-only capacity, as the council considered Mayor Wayne Willich's proposal to eliminate the $75,000 contract for service with the YMCA for the current fiscal year.

After a large portion of the participants voiced support for continued funding of the YMCA, the council took a straw poll that indicated Councilman Dave Chase and Councilwoman Joan Lamb would vote to fund it. Councilman Nils Ribi abstained from participating in the informal tally, saying he would need to review the actual contract before making a decision. And Councilman Dewayne Briscoe originally indicated he would vote against YMCA funding, but in a letter to the editor of the Mountain Express the day after the meeting, stated that if the funds were available after reviewing the final budget, he would "certainly vote to fund the Y this year."

In an attempt to reign in the amount of money given to various non-profit organizations, all council members agreed that a new process for awarding grants needs to be created.

Councilman Nils Ribi noted that in past years, the city administratively gave funding to a number of different organizations without the council's approval.

"The public has the perception that the council is giving money away right and left, when we've never actually voted," Ribi said. "This needs to stop."

Ribi said that rather than looking at the grants throughout the year, Sun Valley could follow Ketchum's lead in having a deadline for all organizations to apply for grants and establish an overall budget for such expenses.

Chase supported establishment of a procedure that would require organizations to pass a number of criteria, including filling an unmet need, potential to be used by many residents, reducing police and EMS incidents, and support of economic development and tourism. Chase said the YMCA fulfilled those criteria, as the city's recreation facilities are completely inadequate and that it provides residents and guests with another amenity when they are not skiing.

"It's wrong to wait for organizations to present their needs to the city," Chase said. "The right way would be to establish our goals and let organizations present a solution with the combination of highest impact and lowest cost."

With the exception of the YMCA, the council agreed with Willich's recommendation to put a freeze on all other city grants to non-profits until the new process is created.

In addition to the community grants discussion, the council also agreed to reallocate $216,811 from the Land Acquisition Fund to help pay for about $900,000 in street repairs, including repairing the majority of the multi-use path that encircles Elkhorn Road. City Treasurer Michelle Frostenson said there was nowhere else in the budget to pull the funds necessary to make up the $216,811 shortfall in the capital improvement budget for that project.

While Willich proposed also transferring the $589,494 remaining in the Land Acquisition Fund to the General Fund, since there are no properties the city plans to buy, the council members disagreed.

"The Land Acquisition Fund is solid, prudent fiscal planning," Ribi argued. "We shouldn't make a reallocation until we have a five-year capital improvement plan."

Ketchum resident Micky Garcia also spoke in favor of maintaining the Land Acquisition Fund as it could help provide affordable housing, which is becoming difficult to create due to state law, made clear by Blaine County's recent decision to remove its inclusionary housing ordinance.

Garcia, speaking later in the meeting in support of the YMCA funding and about Sun Valley's process for awarding grants, was stopped short by a visibly frustrated Mayor Willich.

"We're not going to accept lectures from someone from Ketchum to come over here and have personal discussions about us," Willich said.

Garcia countered that the Ketchum City Council doesn't discriminate against residents from different cities who speak at public meetings. Garcia said many Sun Valley residents receive discounted memberships from the YMCA in Ketchum, a fact that led to an argument with another member of the public.

Willich brought that exchange to a halt, standing and banging his gavel, explaining that he did not want a "runaway" discussion, before bringing the meeting back to order.

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