Friday, August 8, 2008

Sun Valley budget conflict continues

Council members take argument to public in the press

Express Staff Writer

The City of Sun Valley's tentative budget for the 2008-09 fiscal year is set, but Sun Valley City Council members have continued to debate the issue outside of council chambers.

The $7 million draft budget was approved by Mayor Wayne Willich, who voted in order to break the deadlock at a meeting on July 30, with council members Dewayne Briscoe and Nils Ribi in favor of the budget, and Joan Lamb and Dave Chase voting against it.

During the meeting, Lamb and Willich engaged in a number of heated interactions. The former objected to a proposed cut in recreational spending from $125,000 to $60,000. Chase also expressed concern over the cut, stating in a comment on the Idaho Mountain Express Web site that "Recreational Services should be a budget priority that not only serves a large portion of our citizenry, but also our tourists."

"In contrast," Chase continued in his comment, "the current proposed budget is spending around $22,000 per household paving tertiary roads that are lightly used. In more financially robust times, these roads would be a priority but when tough tradeoffs have to be made, this is easy for me to defer a year but apparently wasn't for others (except Council Member Lamb)."

Throughout the numerous budget workshops during the past two months, Mayor Willich has repeatedly stressed his intention of focusing on infrastructure, such as road improvements, for which nearly $1 million is proposed for next year.

In a follow-up to her comments at the meeting, Lamb submitted a guest opinion in Wednesday's edition of the Mountain Express. She gave a number of reasons for her opposition to the proposed budget, including a cut in the contract for services for the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau and the decision not to purchase two buses to be used by Mountain Rides in its service to Sun Valley.

But Councilman Ribi countered Lamb's comments on his own Web page,, stating that a number of her comments were confusing or inaccurate. He noted that the Recreation Services line item included funds for dirt trail development, something he supports, but not during a time of revenue shortfall.

He gave a similar argument against the purchase of the buses, especially when providing them at the expense of road improvements.

Councilman Briscoe also spoke out against Lamb's letter, writing on Sun Valley Online that she was being "disingenuous," as she had stated during a meeting in June that the city had plenty of money, evidenced by a $3 million reserve.

Both Ribi and Lamb agreed, though, that it was inappropriate for Willich to cut off members of the public who were at the meeting to speak on the proposed cuts to the chamber's funding.

"We rarely get much public attendance at budget meetings to begin with, so the last thing we want is to discourage participation," Ribi wrote on his site. "If we are going to consider asking our taxpayers to pay even more taxes in the future through bond issues, as other revenues fall, then it is critical that we listen to them and evaluate how and where we spend their existing taxes."

The Sun Valley City Council will consider a final budget at a public meeting on Thursday, Aug. 21.

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