Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Councilors hope for merger vote

Group looks to put Sun Valley-Ketchum consolidation on ballot


By JON DUVAL
Express Staff Writer

Dave Chase, left, and Charles Conn, right, council members from Sun Valley and Ketchum, respectively, on Monday publicly proposed a merger between the two cities. Photo by Willy Cook

It's been talked about in informal conversations for decades, but a merger of Sun Valley and Ketchum could come before voters of the neighboring cities before the year is out.

Sun Valley City Councilman Dave Chase and Ketchum City Councilman Charles Conn, but expressly not their respective cities or fellow councilmen, announced plans to put this issue on a ballot in both cities, possibly by the August election.

The effort is being undertaken by a newly formed group, called One Community, One Town, which has begun to solicit signatures for the petitions that would put the merger on the ballot.

As regulated by Idaho code, the petitions would need 20 percent of registered voters in both cities' last elections to get on the ballot—that means the signatures of 418 Ketchum voters and just under 100 in Sun Valley.

At a press conference held Monday at the border of the two cities on Sun Valley Road, Conn and Chase said merging the two cities could save an estimated $2 million annually. Savings would include a reduction in overhead from having only one administration and city hall and fewer vehicles.

Conn said research of mergers in other communities shows an average saving of 30 percent. He said that with the economies of the two cities so closely tied together, it would be relatively easy to bring the two together.

Chase said savings could reduce taxes or increase the level of services.

"This has been discussed for the past 20 years," Chase said. "But to make it happen, it should be a citizen-led drive to ensure transparency."

The pair said opponents to the idea will likely argue that the "cultures" of the two cities are too different to allow a merger to work.

On the group's Web site, www.onecommunityonetown.com, which has been set up to explain the legality of such a consolidation and answer common concerns, it's argued that there really isn't that big of a difference between the cities.

"The biggest difference is that Ketchum is Sun Valley's downtown since Sun Valley doesn't have its own business core," the group writes on its Web site. "It isn't like we are combining Sun Valley with Jerome ... We are already one community. We are simply having the city bureaucracy act as one as the citizenry already does."

However, Sun Valley Mayor Wayne Willich, who has vocally opposed the consolidation of police or fire departments, is less than supportive of the idea.

"Sun Valley is sound financially and I keep hearing that Ketchum is having problems, so I question the motivation," Willich said during an interview. "I'm not interested in plugging holes in Ketchum."

Willich said that if he were presented with hard data that demonstrate the proposed savings, he would be forced to consider the proposal. However, until then, he didn't think it would make sense for Sun Valley taxpayers.

Jon Duval: jduval@mtexpress.com

City merger town hall meeting

Merger proponents have scheduled a town hall meeting to discuss the issue on March 5 at 5:30 p.m. at the Presbyterian Church of the Bigwood in Ketchum.




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