Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Agencies make their cases to Ketchum

Business, housing and transportation groups seek funding

Express Staff Writer

Municipal revenues may have taken a hit in the down economy, but area organizations that count on external funding are hoping there is a small slice of the pie for them.

Representatives from three entities—Mountain Rides, Blaine County Housing Authority and Sustain Blaine—appeared before the Ketchum City Council on June 14 to make their requests for the coming fiscal year. Funding for Mountain Rides and Sustain Blaine comes from the city's local-option tax collections, while money for the Housing Authority comes out of the city's in-lieu housing fund.

Mountain Rides Executive Director Jason Miller said the transit organization has several priorities it would like to pursue, but added that "we understand the budget realities."

Mountain Rides' request from Ketchum is $523,000, 5 percent higher than what it received for the current fiscal year. Miller said the organization is asking all local funding entities for an increase this year, based largely on the higher cost of fuel and declining federal funding.

With Ketchum providing 22 percent of Mountain Rides' budget, the city's contribution is essential, he said.

"Ketchum is our largest local funding partner ... and receives the largest amount of benefits, as well," Miller said. "Ketchum is really the heart and soul of our service."

Possibilities include increased winter service, offset by a reduction in year-round service, expanded valley route express service, and a town jitney.

Kathy Grotto, executive administrator of the Blaine County Housing Authority, asked the council for $73,000, which would represent 33 percent of her organization's budget.

The request is 4 percent more than what the group received for fiscal 2011, based primarily on new initiatives, including a countywide housing plan.

During the presentation, Ketchum City Administrator Gary Marks told the council that the city's in-lieu housing fund was at risk of being depleted in two years.

The city's inclusionary zoning ordinance is a mechanism for including affordable-housing units in certain residential projects. Alternately, developers can pay into the fund in lieu of building those units. The city has received no in-lieu funding for several years.

However, he said, "it's not really something we need to be alarmed about right now."

Marks said in an interview that he expects to start the new fiscal year with about $140,000 in the affordable housing fund. He said his estimate of the two-year supply of money is based on an assumption that the council will continue with its current rate of Housing Authority funding of $70,000 per year and that no new in-lieu fees come in to replenish the fund.

"Because construction activity in the community is at a snail's pace right now, we haven't had any types of development that pay into that fund," Marks said. "That's a function of the economy."

Grotto said in an interview that although Ketchum has waived some affordable-housing requirements, she believes the city will not let the fund dry up.

"I know they remain committed to community housing and will find a way to fund it," she said.

Harry Griffith, executive director of countywide economic development group Sustain Blaine, asked the council for $8,000. Of that, $5,000 is for general programs and administration. The remainder would be tabbed for project-specific activity, such as processing the application to the U.S. Olympic Committee for the valley's certification as an Olympic and Paralympic training site.

The organization also is hoping to build a contingency fund with an additional $7,000 from Ketchum, as well as amounts from other cities.

"We didn't ask for, but we flagged a third category," Griffith said in an interview.

Contingency fund money could be allocated to future projects, programs or activities.

"There is some conceptual discussion going on about potential work," he said.

Marks and Mayor Randy Hall are compiling a draft budget, which they will present to the City Council in August.

A public hearing will be held in September.

Rebecca Meany:

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