Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Awaiting a return on investment

Sun Valley agrees to participate in Sustain Blaine study

Express Staff Writer

Wayne Willich

"What we don't want is another study that states the obvious, such as '20-year-olds can't afford $2 million houses,'" Sun Valley Mayor Wayne Willich said in regards to helping fund Sustain Blaine, a countywide economic study and development strategy.

But Sustain Blaine spokesperson Vanessa Fry presented a strong enough case to garner City Council approval for a $25,000 contribution to the $150,000 project.

On Thursday, June 19, Fry was back before the council for the second time in as many months to explain the benefits of the project not only to the county as a whole, but to Sun Valley itself.

The regional economic assessment would consider ways of attracting new jobs and creating greater economic vitality in the area. The first phase of the study would entail an analysis of the county's economic traits by the consulting firm TIP Strategies. This would be followed by extensive public input into the development of economic strategic planning, and, lastly, the implementation of the various strategies.

"There needs to be a specific economic development strategy particular to Sun Valley," Willich said in an interview on Monday.

Willich, who made conservative fiscal spending a main platform in last autumn's election, met with Fry and Councilman Ribi in late May to discuss the details of the project and the potential benefits to the city.

"In my experience, a strategy has go-forward action in it, not someone simply telling you to 'do better,'" Willich said. "What we need is to outline a strategy to attract businesses that don't need to be in a particular location. How do we package our city in such a way that a guy sitting in Seattle or San Francisco will want to move here?"

With this contract for services with Sustain Blaine, Sun Valley joins Ketchum, which is on board for $25,000, Blaine County, at $20,000, and Carey, $500, along with a number of other private organizations and businesses that are funding the study. Both Hailey and Bellevue are still determining the amount of their respective contributions.

Sustain Blaine has also received a $35,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Business Opportunity grant.

While both Councilwoman Joan Lamb and Nils Ribi voted in favor of the request, Councilman Dewayne Briscoe voted against the expenditure.

"We have to explain to our taxpayers why we're paying for a study rather than fixing a road," Briscoe said at the meeting.

Briscoe said it would be premature to start such a study now, with the potential relocation of Friedman Memorial Airport looming.

But Councilwoman Lamb said that the city has a large enough budget surplus to enter into this contract, and added that other projects, such as street repair, would cost much more by comparison.

Fry said City Attorney Rand Peebles will draw up the contract and that the details of when the payments will be made have yet to be finalized.

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