Friday, September 30, 2011

In Bellevue, high stakes in bond vote

City seeks approval of tax increase to improve Fire Department

Express Staff Writer

Firefighters work on the scene of a house fire in Bellevue earlier this year. Photo by Mountain Express

Bellevue voters will decide on Nov. 8 if they are willing to pay higher property taxes in the city for 20 years to fund $375,000 in improvements to the Bellevue Fire Department.

Passage of the bond election would allow the city to buy a $300,000 "pumper" fire truck, spend $65,000 for land acquisition and buy $10,000 worth of equipment. The bond—which would raise taxes $1.40 per month per $100,000 of property valuation—requires support from at least two-thirds of voters.

The city recently opted out of a $46,000 south-valley fire department consolidation study paid for by the city of Hailey and the Wood River Fire Protection District.

The study concluded with recommendations for south-valley fire departments to consolidate to save money and increase efficiencies, but Mayor Chris Koch said raising taxes to beef up the Bellevue Fire Department is preferable. He said consolidation would cost Bellevue taxpayers more than the bond.

"Some of the financial numbers in the study were wrong," Koch stated in an email to the Idaho Mountain Express. "When the correct numbers are plugged in, it changes the end result. That result was a dramatic increase in fees/taxes to the residents."

Koch said the City Council took the fire consolidation study very seriously and looked at all the recommendations.

"With this bond, we will be able to move forward with some of those recommendations," he said. "With all the aging infrastructure and deficient equipment, we as a mayor and council are always looking at ways to improve [the Bellevue Fire Department].

Koch said the bond initiative was placed on the fall election ballot by the City Council after numerous public meetings, including a special town hall meeting on May 9.

"I appreciate our citizens' input and support at these meetings," Koch wrote in a prepared statement that he read during a council meeting on Thursday, Sept. 22. "It was clearly heard that the citizens supported the local service being provided by the Bellevue Fire Department, supported expanding the department as needed with a facility and equipment under the leadership of the City Council and mayor of Bellevue, and would support the costs to do so."

Councilman Larry Plott said information regarding the possible purchase of land to expand or replace the Fire Department building would be forthcoming.

Tony Evans:

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