Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Hailey stands behind rodeo-bond decision

City says itís still hopeful Hailey Ice donor will provide payment


By TONY EVANS
Express Staff Writer

If any Hailey City Council members know the name of an anonymous donor who was expected to help Hailey Ice complete its planned skating rink, they are not prepared to share his or her identity with the public.

Hailey residents passed a $3.5 million bond in May 2010 to fund a project to rebuild the rodeo grounds, which included building a new rodeo arena, expanding the city's skatepark and building a visitor center.

Part of the redevelopment plan included construction of a public ice rink on city property. The rink was billed by supporters as a money-maker for the city, thanks to the popularity of hockey tournaments in the region.

Jim Laski, attorney for Hailey Ice, told the council before the 2010 election that the nonprofit organization was close to accepting an anonymous donation that would more than cover the cost of developing and operating the recreational facility.

"It's a huge donation, so there are lots of wrinkles to work out," he said. "We are working hard because it's important to get the donation prior to the bond vote."

Laski later said the donor might wait to see if Hailey voters supported the proposed $3.5 million tax increase on May 25 before stepping forward. The $3.5 million approved by voters is being used for the city's commitment to the project—the new rodeo arena, skatepark and visitor center.

Laski said last week that he has been in contact with the donor and remains hopeful that the donation will proceed.

Just prior to the bond vote 16 months ago, the city was shown plans for a four-season recreational facility at the rink, costing as much as $3.9 million. Hailey Ice has so far spent about $400,000 in construction of foundations for a rink, but there is no assurance that it will be completed if the donation falls through.

In an effort to find out the name of the potential donor, the Idaho Mountain Express has issued two formal requests for city public records pertaining to the plan. So far, no city official has revealed the name.

"Hailey has informed the Idaho Mountain Express that there are no public records with the donor's name," Hailey City Attorney Ned Williamson said in a written statement. "I believe Hailey has complied with the public records law."

Questions sent to the mayor and City Council revealed that some, but not all, council members know the donor's name. Mayor Rick Davis, council Chair Fritz Haemmerle and Councilwoman Carol Brown responded individually, saying they do not know the name of the donor. Councilman Don Keirn and Councilwoman Martha Burke declined to comment on the donor's identity.

The city clerk then issued a consolidated statement for the city, based on the following questions submitted by the Mountain Express:

IME: Did you know who the donor is when the council decided to pursue the project and the bond vote?

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City: "No."

IME: Do you know now? 

City: "Not all of the council members know."

IME: Do you have reason to believe the donor will surface and provide the funding? 

City: "We do not know whether the donor will continue to remain anonymous.  The donor and Hailey Ice have assured Hailey that the donor intends on honoring the promise to provide the funding for a modern ice skating rink."

IME: What happens if he/she doesn't? 

City: "Before the May 2010 bond election, the mayor and City Council discussed the possibility of the donor not coming through with the funds during a public meeting. If the funds did not arrive, Hailey decided that it would have to scale back the ice rink project. Hailey has planned to complete the project in a phased fashion. First, Hailey planned to finish the rodeo arena by July 4, 2011, which was accomplished. Second, Hailey planned on completing the skate park addition before winter of 2011/12. The skate park is now substantially complete and is used by many skaters. Third, Hailey intends on completing the Interpretative Center before the end of 2012. Hailey Ice and the donor have informed Hailey that they hope to start construction for the Ice Rink in 2012. If the donor does not provide the funding for the current design, Hailey Ice will continue its fundraising efforts to complete the remainder of the project.

IME: Do they think the promise made by Jim Laski influenced the bond vote?

City: "Hailey cannot answer this question. This question asks to speculate on the mindset of the voters. Moreover, it is not clear what promise you are referring to when you ask whether the promise influenced the vote."

IME: Were the city and its voters misled in some way?

City: "Hailey Ice has been in frequent communication with the City of Hailey and the public and has communicated the existence of a donor who could fund the expanded indoor ice skating rink.  Whenever asked about the timing of payment, Hailey Ice has told reporters, the public and the City of Hailey that it expects payment. When the donation was not provided, Hailey Ice and the donor have explained that there are timing issues for the donation by the donor."

IME: What should the city do now?

City: "Hailey fully intends to complete the skate park addition and interpretative center as planned. The city will continue to work with Hailey Ice to ensure the completion of the ice skating rink."

IME: What do you think of the situation? 

City: "The entire project has provided the public with an outstanding rodeo arena, a great addition to the skate park, a vibrant entrance to Hailey and a central site for a public ice skating rink. Given the world-wide economic situation, Hailey understands the donor's funding delays. As explained in the lease between Hailey and Hailey Ice, Hailey Ice is responsible to construct the public ice skating facility. If the donor does not honor the commitment to fund the current design, Hailey Ice will continue its fundraising efforts to complete the remainder of the project. It is important to understand that Hailey Ice has already donated approximately $400,000 of private funds towards a public ice skating rink."

Tony Evans tevans@mtexpress.com




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