The Hailey City Council will have to make some tough decisions over the next few weeks as it finalizes the budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
Pay for city staff salaries will be weighed against the need to fund outside agencies, including the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley, Mountain Rides and organizations geared toward attracting new businesses.
"The hardest part is when it becomes about our people," said Councilwoman Martha Burke, referring to the possible loss of city staff positions. "It's like the Donner Party. It's amazing we have not had to eat our shoes."
The city's operating budget has dropped from $4.6 million to $4 million over the last three years, but with revenues expected to drop another 3 percent in fiscal year 2012 and rising fuel costs, the cuts are expected to continue.
The city's operating budget funds Hailey's streets, police, community development, library and parks departments.
Based on the first draft of the city's budget, presented on Monday by City Administrator Heather Dawson, the council would have to come up with an additional $325,000 in order to satisfy all of the requests from city departments and outside agencies.
City Councilwoman Carol Brown said the city could unfortunately lose the Mountain Rides Hailey circulator bus, which provides free service within the city limits.
Council Chairman Fritz Haemmerle suggested reducing funding for the Blaine County Housing Authority.
Mayor Rick Davis said he would be talking to the Hailey Chamber of Commerce about possible reductions in funding.
Davis described the budgeting process as "heart wrenching" on Monday.
Dawson advised the council to focus on necessities. She wrote this week in a memo that the city's priorities under current economic conditions should be "...the care of our infrastructure and environment for longevity and safety."
The council expressed unanimous concern that a bill from Blaine County for emergency dispatch services has gone up over the last three years, even as the city has been forced to cut staff, and reduce hours and benefits.
"It keeps going up, while everything else keeps coming down," said Councilman Don Keirn.
Since late 2008, the city has paid over $350,000 to the county for dispatch services, said Dawson.
The council will deliberate before adopting a tentative budget at a meeting on July 25. This draft will be published before a public hearing on Aug. 22.
After the public hearing, the council will adopt a budget by ordinance.
Tony Evans: email@example.com