Three candidates for one open seat on the Hailey City Council, and four mayoral candidates, fielded questions and raised a few issues of their own Wednesday night at the Idaho Mountain Express-sponsored Pizza & Politics forum at the Old County Courthouse in Hailey.
About 150 people crowded into the forum to hear about each candidate's funding priorities, plans to boost the local economy, long-range hopes for development and other big issues facing Hailey.
Hailey council race
Former P&Z Commissioner Patrick Cooley, metal worker and activist Robert Wiederrick and former teacher Peter Lobb found mutual agreement on the city's need to preserve commercial air access to the valley, attract and retain new businesses, and increase public involvement in local government.
The candidates also agreed that the city should find a way around the turf battles between the Hailey Fire Department and Wood River Fire & Rescue that have halted meaningful efforts at fire agency consolidation.
The top infrastructure priority for Lobb and Cooley is the rebuilding of Woodside Boulevard, a project that has stalled due to lack of funding. Wiederrick said he would focus on a small portion of the project, the installation of a traffic light at the corner of state Highway 75 and Woodside Boulevard.
Cooley said the role of government in attracting new businesses to Hailey was to improve water, sewer, police and other city services.
Wiederrick said development comes from the "individual genius of the people" and that government should just get out of the way. He said eliminating development impact fees for new developments, which he said had "salted the earth" in the city, would go far in boosting the local economy.
Cooley said the fees were essential and that working with the Chamber of Commerce, Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization and Sustain Blaine would boost Hailey's economy.
Lobb said the city should review development impact fees for businesses, but perhaps raise fees for annexations. He said the city should formulate a PR package to use in selling the city to businesses from outside the area, and work to get the attention of wealthy northbound passersby as potential investors in the city.
Cooley and Lobb stressed the need to build within city limits rather than annex properties now in the county. Wiederrick once more demonized development impact fees as the reason for slow growth.
The candidates' opinions diverged on the matter of how to fund the many smaller issues that face city residents—park maintenance, repair of old sidewalks and trimming of older trees.
"Trees are what make Old Hailey, and we have to find money in the budget to take care of these issues," Lobb said.
Cooley said "hard decisions" had to be made to pay for these important services, and that the city should consider initiating a general obligation bond to pay for them.
"It's going to come out of our pockets one way or another," he said.
Wiederrick said that if the city had no money for the improvements, leaders could tear up the old sidewalks and pedestrians could walk in the streets. He recommended increasing volunteerism to solve other problems.
In closing, Cooley criticized his opponents of being "at odds" with the City Council over the past few years.
Lobb answered by saying he would not apologize for his viewpoints and that he is a consensus builder who would consider all Hailey citizens before making decisions.
Cooley and Lobb agreed that the city should have had a promised donation to pay for the Hailey Ice rink in hand before enticing voters to pass a recreation bond last year. Cooley said that at this point it did not matter who the anonymous donor is.
"I would rat him out," said Wiederrick.
Hailey mayoral race
Mayor Rick Davis faced off against City Council Chair Fritz Haemmerle and Planning and Zoning Commissioners Mark Johnstone and Geoffrey Moore.
Davis began by thanking city staff for a job well done, and ended by offering his experience in 20 years in public service as what the city needs to move forward during a challenging economic and political environment.
"This old horse is good for another four years," he said.
Haemmerle criticized Davis for a "lack of leadership," saying he would instead "lead city staff, rather than be led by them." Johnstone likewise criticized Davis and the City Council for not making progress on a number of issues facing the city.
"Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. The airport issue is still going around and around in circles," Johnstone said.
Moore promised not to add to Hailey residents' tax burden and criticized the mayor and council for making decisions in recent years that have led to litigation.
Haemmerle and Davis reflected on the complexities of dealing with the FAA with regard to airport expansion/relocation issues. Davis called for more public comment and stressed the need to express the city's standpoint to the FAA. Haemmerle said the city had been "held hostage to the whims" of the FAA, and expansion would not be acceptable because it would not guarantee continued commercial service.
Johnstone said all parties should be brought to the table and suggested using Twin Falls and Boise as alternate transportation hubs. Moore said the city should "take responsibility" for maintaining local commercial air service and study the costs of expansion.
All the candidates expressed a desire to focus on in-fill development rather than expansion of the city limits through annexations, due to the abundance of vacant lots and homes.
"But I would not build a fence around the city," said Haemmerle, who said protecting the historic character of Old Hailey from "business creep" is a top priority.
Moore said he would reach out to the public to regain trust in Hailey's leaders, saying he would be a mayor with no conflicts of interest.
Johnstone said he would appoint a liaison to city staff to bring issues from departments to the City Council, and recommended using vacant land in the city for development partnerships, as had been done with ARCH Community Housing Trust.
Davis expressed regret that he has not been able to bring about consolidated training between the Hailey Fire Department and Wood River Fire & Rescue. Haemmerle and Johnstone said efforts to bring the two departments together should continue.
Moore said the city should go it alone with its own department and that consolidation would raise fire taxes 100 percent for Hailey taxpayers.
All of the mayoral candidates agreed that attracting and retaining businesses in the city is a top priority. Davis stressed the need to actively recruit new businesses to the valley, and touted the city's newly streamlined permitting processes at City Hall, as well as recent urban renewal district research in Jerome and Twin Falls.
Haemmerle said city staff had encumbered existing businesses by regulating blinking signs and balloons on Main Street.
"That is a silly regulation," he said.
Moore and Davis rooted their visions for Hailey's future on stimulating business investment, while Haemmerle, who worked to found the Hailey Fourth of July Criterium bike race, said he would work to make Hailey the "recreation capital of the world."
Johnstone agreed that recreation was important, but touted his own role in creating Hailey's Night of Music and the "percent for art" ordinance.
"I think Hailey should be a cultural destination as well," Johnstone said.
Davis, Haemmerle and Johnstone all said recycling education efforts are important, but Moore alone recommended a "redemption system" that would require a deposit on all recyclable bottles and cans.
"If there is value on them, people will be digging them out of the trash," he said.
Johnstone, Moore and Haemmerle said they would prioritize parks maintenance in the city budget or work to enhance volunteer efforts in that area.
Davis said increasing funding for parks maintenance out of the LOT revenue was an option, but that that would require reductions in the city's contributions to Mountain Rides Transportation Authority, the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley and other organizations favored by Hailey citizens that are partly funded by city dollars.
Moore and Johnstone said the city erred by not getting a promised donation from an anonymous donor before calling for support for a recreation bond last year. Haemmerle and Davis said they were happy with the new rodeo arena and skatepark and that the rink would eventually be finished.
In closing, the candidates listed their career successes and commitments to public service in final pitches for office.
Moore said that before retiring, he had successfully overseen many multi-million-dollar construction projects in the valley and had "always been a leader." Haemmerle said he has worked in all three branches of government, run a business for 10 years and had never fired an employee, relying on a strong ability to direct employees. Johnstone touted his management of multi-million-dollar governmental budgets in Los Angeles and the fact that he would be a "full-time mayor."
Davis took credit for running a $13 million-per-year operation while in office, and leading the city already through difficult times.
"There is a saying about not switching horses in midstream," he said
Tony Evans: email@example.com