Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Hailey facing budget woes

City Council looks for ways to cure $550,000 deficit

Express Staff Writer

Hailey is taking steps to reduce operating expenses for the city to make up for a budget deficit of $550,000. The budget shortfall is the result of a two-year slowdown in construction development, which has left city officials wondering where they can save money to remain fiscally responsible in challenging times.

"We have done a lot to cut our costs already," said City Administrator Heather Dawson. "We are evaluating this shortfall at a time when we can be proactive about preventing further deficits. The deficit number in June will not be this high."

Dawson said the city has eliminated two staff positions in the Planning Department and two positions in the Street Department in response to the deficit.

"When people left these four positions recently, we did not rehire to fill them," she said. "We also consolidated the public works role and the city engineer role under the same position."

In addition to staff reductions, the city has also refused to provide funding for what council members agree are worthwhile programs. Sustain Blaine representatives came to the council last month for funding of a regional planning study, but were turned away.

"We are at a point where we must provide life safety for the community before donating to other programs," Dawson said.

The council voted Monday night to support the Blaine County Ambulance District's proposed levy increase, which is on the May 27 ballot. The countywide levy, if passed, will cost property owners $3 per $100,000 of property valuation and pay for upgrades to ambulance vehicles, equipment and training of personnel.

Bob Greenlaw of Blaine County Consolidated Emergency Communications also approached the council on Monday, seeking $260,000 for a backup emergency dispatch facility and the salaries of its personnel. He said Hailey accounted for 27.8 percent of total calls for emergency services within the county and requested that the city pay a contribution based on this user share of dispatch services.

Councilman Fritz Haemmerle told Greenlaw that state law requires the county to pay its own salaries. Councilwoman Carol Brown suggested that Blaine County Consolidated Emergency Communications raise money through a levy override increase of its own, such as the one up for a vote on the May 27 ballot for the ambulance district.

Mayor Rick Davis agreed that the dispatch funding was a "countywide issue" and said the city of Hailey is struggling financially in any case.

"We are not flush right now, and we won't be for a couple more years," he said.

Dawson said the city will look for ways to trim the budget this month in anticipation of June budgeting workshops, which will begin the city's budgeting process.

"We will be looking at portions of the budget which we can avoid spending next week," she said.

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