Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Bellevue fire bond to be on election ballot

Proposed tax increase passed with no public comment

Express Staff Writer

With only one public discussion, and no public comment, the Bellevue City Council last week voted unanimously to put before voters a bond issue for a 20-year tax increase to upgrade the city's fire department.

Bellevue voters will decide on Nov. 8 whether to raise taxes $1.40 per month per $100,000 of property valuation to raise $375,000 for the department.

The money would be used to buy a new $300,000 "pumper" fire truck, pay $65,000 toward purchase of property and pay for $10,000 in equipment upgrades at the Bellevue Fire Department building.

The City Council unanimously passed an ordinance on Thursday, Sept. 15, calling for a general obligation bond initiative to be placed on the fall election ballot.

"It's up to the voters," Fire Chief Greg Beaver said Thursday while the council considered the ballot initiative for the first time at a public meeting.

According to Councilman Larry Plott, the council discussed the bond during a closed executive session during a special meeting on Monday, Sept. 12. In an interview that day, Plott said the bond initiative had first been broached among council members "about a week ago."

On Thursday, Mayor Chris Koch read a statement to the council stating that it had gathered public comment for many months on the proposed bond, beginning with a public forum last May.

During a "town hall" meeting on May 9 attended by about 50 people, the possibility of a bond issue was mentioned, though the focus of the meeting was on potential fire department consolidation.

"The council has been diligent in the open public process," Koch said in his prepared statement.

But not so diligent that all of the members of the City Council even knew what was taking place. Councilwoman Sara Burns said she was not told about the proposed bond until she saw it on a Friday afternoon on an agenda for a "special meeting" Monday at 9 a.m.

"That was the first I had heard about the bond," Burns said.

She said she had not been told about the meeting in time to attend.

Beaver said purchase of the new pumper was "part of the recommendation" contained in a fire consolidation study financed last year by Hailey and the Wood River Fire Protection District.

Shaun Mahoney, a veteran of the council and contender in the fall election, attended the Thursday meeting. His attempt to make public comment on the bond initiative was cut short by Koch.

By press time Tuesday, Koch had not returned two phone calls made during the course of more than a week requesting clarification on the issue.

Mahoney said in an interview that he has been disappointed by the lack of public input allowed by the current City Council. He said this is one reason he wants to get back into local politics.

"Thursday was another example of an agenda already predisposed before the public had a real chance to give input," he said. "It isn't illegal, but it isn't right. I'd like to see more public input."

Tony Evans:

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