Friday, August 15, 2008

Sun Valley’s budget needs work

The proposed budget is the fiscal equivalent of raiding an IRA to pay for food & gas.


David Chase is a member of the Sun Valley City Council.

On July 30, Sun Valley Mayor Wayne Willich broke a tie of the City Council in approving a tentative budget slated for approval August 21. My purpose is to provide detail on why I strongly oppose this budget and invite citizen input that has been missing in the budget process.

The following are issues to be addressed:

- Recognize that this is a time to tighten the belt, not add permanent overhead and dip into reserves, which would have terrible consequences for the staff and city services in future years.

- Incorporate public and council input that has been repeatedly cut off.

- Allocate taxes to most benefit the greatest number of taxpayers.

As a fiscal conservative, I have been extremely disappointed in the profligate spending by those in power in Washington, D.C., which has put our country into a deep deficit. I am sounding the alarm that we are seeing a preview of the same in the current proposed budget.

The primary issue I have with the Ribi/Willich budget wasn't on cutting expenses (where there was near unanimity), but on expenditures that add permanent overhead via staffing additions. Instead we should pursue alternatives that achieve the same goal without saddling future budgets in a way that is likely to require the city to cut staff or city services in the near future. As it is, I believe the proposed budget is the fiscal equivalent of raiding an IRA to pay for food and gas.

In an effort to find out what citizens think is most critical to be funded in fiscally uncertain times, citizens are asked to complete a short survey to make tradeoffs between various worthy items that can't all be funded this year. Please visit to complete the two-minute survey to provide vital direction for the council to make a data-based decision.

Preliminary results (We'll continue tabulating until August 21.) highlighted those items most strongly supported. In order of preference by aggregate score, they were:

1) Recreational services (received 100 percent in top two boxes).

2) Purchase two small buses to maintain current services levels (84.3 percent in top two boxes).

3) Cultural event support (89.5 in top two boxes).

The three items that had the highest percentage of "strongly oppose" responses were:

1) Prospector B re-paving.

2) Sage re-paving.

3) Tie between Silver Queen & Arrowleaf re-paving.

The previous three items ranged from 73.7 percent to 79 percent in the bottom two boxes where cost per household served ranged from $22,308 to $88,160.

Clearly, we need to re-pave even the extremely expensive tertiary roads (busier roads have already been addressed) periodically, but the last several administrations have proven that this type of spending permits long-term bonding so the city can get costly capital projects done in a fiscally prudent manner without raiding operating budgets. We have a bond ready to be renewed in the very near future without increasing current tax levels.

An example of what won't get funded in recreation with the current proposal is expansion of non-motorized trails. The Blaine County Recreation District's Needs Analysis determined that a top item for Sun Valley was non-motorized trails. To meet that need, a modest amount could be used to work through the myriad issues with private and public landowners to get new dirt trails; as it is, there are several existing unofficial trails that aren't conducive to regular use by normal residents and visitors. These dollars would be leveraged in a private/public partnership that would demand little ongoing cost yet be a great enhancement to serve literally thousands of residents and tourists alike.

For a point of comparison, the amount of money cut from the recreation budget will pay to provide two households with new roadway in front of their homes. The Recreation amount I support had less than one percent the cost on a per-capita usage basis as these tertiary roads. Given that recreation is what brought virtually every one of us to this area and supports tourist and resident enjoyment, I view recreation as an investment, whereas tertiary road re-paving is an expense that can be deferred when budget constraints demand.

None of the rationales for dipping into reserves built up over several years and increasing permanent overhead pass the "prudent man's standards" as emergencies that justify cutting transit, recreation and culture funds. I urge citizens to attend the budget hearing on August 21 and to complete the form.

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