Friday, July 22, 2011

Sun Valley may cut list of projects

Council might ask for bond levy to fund capital improvements

Express Staff Writer

Making a wish list is easy compared with coming up with the money to pay for it.

The Sun Valley City Council held a public hearing Wednesday on the city's capital improvement program. The items listed in the plan are many—and expensive. Realizing that it's not feasible to plan for all items in the program, the council discussed narrowing the list to better reflect economic realities.

"What we have in front of us is a wonderful document ... but the rhinoceros in the room is how do you pay for it?" said Mayor Wayne Willich.

The program is a multi-year plan that identifies the city's needs for capital projects, fixed assets, facilities and land acquisition. It also provides estimated costs for the projects and plans to complete them.

"It's a working document," Willich said. "If we were to implement this as is, just the way it is, in the next five years we would need $13.45 million in funding for just streets and paths."

In an effort to sort from the list what is needed from what is wanted, the council laid out its priorities and debated how to pay for them.

"In my opinion, this is beyond the scope of what I would feel comfortable recommending to the public that we finance," said Councilwoman Joan Lamb. "And I would like us to develop ... a plan for funding that."

Lamb said she didn't want to adopt a document identified as a plan or a program if the city didn't have the ability to carry out all that was contained in it.

"I can adopt this as a needs assessment," she said.

The council agreed to rename the document the 20-Year Capital Improvement Assessment so the city isn't obligated to proceed with all the identified projects.

The council is, however, focusing on some projects—those that council members think are needed and can be paid for over the next five years. Road and path repair and an aerial tower vehicle used in fire fighting are items that may remain on the short-term list. Land acquisition and facilities may be put off.

"We do need to move forward with a certain portion of the road plan, a certain portion of the fixed-asset plan and maybe something else that urgently needs to be done," Councilman Nils Ribi said. "And that needs to be the plan. We need to figure out how to fund that portion of the plan through financing."

The city may put a bond levy on the ballot, either in November or May, to fund those needs. Sun Valley will make its final payment in August on its last bond.

"You might think that's an exciting position to be in," Willich said in an interview. But, he said, "You can only play that game for so long, and then the chickens come home to roost."

Few residents have so far commented on the capital improvement program. Harry Griffith attended the Wednesday meeting, speaking out against a proposed third firehouse. He argued that it was an unnecessary expense for a community of 2,400 homes and 900 full-time residents.

"The stated rationale for this facility, that it's required for response time and safety, is not credible, in my opinion," he said.

Even if the facility were a shared-cost facility with the Fire Service or BLM, and even if grants were available, funds likely would not cover the entire cost, nor would they likely cover operational or other costs, he said.

"The addition of another fire facility will add significantly to the number of employees, full-time or part-time," he said. "It will also increase utility and maintenance costs, and purchase of additional fire-fighting equipment will also be required."

The firehouse won't be included in the five-year plan, Willich said, but will be kept on the list of potential projects for the future.

The council will hold another meeting on the subject, but the meeting had not been scheduled as of Thursday.

"This particular meeting ... is not the end of this discussion," Willich said Wednesday.

Rebecca Meany:

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