Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Ys in the money

Sun Valley to stick with $75,000 contract

Express Staff Writer

Two weeks after members of the Sun Valley City Council gave their implicit support to a contract for service with the Wood River Community YMCA, they made the $75,000 official, going against the recommendation of Mayor Wayne Willich.

For the second time in as may weeks, Sun Valley's council chamber on Thursday, May 15, was packed with residents from all over Blaine County, the vast majority of whom spoke in favor of continued financial support of the public recreational facility.

The issue stemmed from a memo circulated to the council at the beginning of the month in which Willich proposed eliminating the appropriation for the YMCA, as well as placing a moratorium on the funding of all other community program support line items.

Willich said his recommendation stemmed from the city's need to undertake capital improvement projects, especially the $2.5 million required for road repairs. The city has already approved approximately $900,000 for rebuilding the multi-use path from the intersection of Elkhorn Road and state Highway 75 to the intersection of Village Way and Elkhorn Road, as well as a number of city streets.

Sun Valley resident Margaret Walker spoke in favor of Willich's proposal, but for a reason different than that of the mayor's.

"I don't want the city choosing a charity for me," Walker said.

However, while the YMCA is indeed a non-profit organization, proponents of retaining the scheduled funding argued that the city was receiving a valuable service in return.

"This is probably the best recreational facility we have other than a chairlift," former Sun Valley Mayor Jon Thorson said.

Thorson contended that the contribution is a legitimate use for local-option tax receipts.

As well, it was also argued that as the money had been in the Sun Valley budget since the 2007-2008 fiscal year began in October, the YMCA had already factored it into a number of programs.

"This would do damage to both the YMCA's operating budget and Sun Valley's public image," Thorson said of Willich's proposal.

Though the council unanimously supported the contract, it was also clear that some changes to the grant process are imminent.

"We have to stop the kick we've been on for the last few years of just giving out money to charities," said Sun Valley resident Ross Jennings.

Jennings' statement echoed sentiments recently voiced by several council members. Councilman Dave Chase noted at the May 1 meeting that the city should implement a system requiring organizations to prove they are meeting an unfilled need.

"The tables have cleared and we have no more commitments," Councilman Nils Ribi said after the vote to approve the YMCA contract.

The council also eliminated $10,000, which had yet to be allocated to any particular organization, from the budget's community program support line.

In addition, the council chose not to take action on a request to provide $25,000 for the Sustain Blaine study, which has so far received commitments from Ketchum and Carey. The regional economic assessment would consider ways of attracting new jobs and creating greater economic vitality in the area.

Sustain Blain spokesperson Vanessa Fry said she hopes to bring the mayor and new council members up to speed on the project and gain their support.

"To be honest, we don't want the city's money if they aren't going to be involved in the process," Fry said in an interview. "We need to explain exactly what this investment is all about and get their buy-in to the overall idea."

Fry said she hopes to sit down with Willich in the near future and bring the proposal back to the council.

In other Sun Valley news:

· Following a recent decision by the Blaine County Commission to repeal the county's inclusionary housing ordinance, the Sun Valley City Council referred the city's Workforce Housing Regulations ordinance to the Planning and Zoning Commission for possible recision.

The ordinance requires developers of subdivisions to dedicate 15 percent of the total number of dwellings as workforce housing units.

Last summer, a 5th District Court judge ruled that the city's linkage ordinance, which required developers of single-family homes to pay an in-lieu fee for workforce housing, was illegal.

"It's unfortunate that the Idaho Legislature has put us in this position," Councilman Ribi said at Thursday's meeting. "They preach local control, but don't practice it."

City Attorney Rand Peebles said the issue could be back before the council in July, depending on the commission's meeting schedule.

· Mayor Willich and the council approved their support for a proposed increase in the Blaine County Ambulance District levy.

To maintain its current level of service, the district is seeking a levy override to authorize up to $3 per $100,000 of property valuation. If approved, the new levy rate would provide the district with an additional $350,000 per year.

· As part of his senior project, Wood River High School student Pat McMahon successfully lobbied the council for a restriction on the maximum level of noise allowed by leaf blowers. During its meeting Thursday, the council amended the city's noise ordinance to set a maximum of 65 decibels for the piece of landscaping equipment.

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