Friday, December 30, 2011

2011: Bellevue’s year of change

In tough times, City Council takes charge


By TONY EVANS
Express Staff Writer

This mural on a Main Street building in Bellevue got new paint and a new look in the summer of 2011. Photo by David N. Seelig

Bellevue gave up some secrets in 2011 with an enchanting garden tour organized to help support the Bellevue Public Library. The Green Antelope Gallery hosted its second Open Studios tour of art studios around town, bringing to light the community of creative artists at the south end of the Wood River Valley.

The Labor Day parade and Halloween Haunted Forest also brought people in droves to "the silver city with a golden heart."

City government saw some big changes. A "maverick" Bellevue City Council brought back city staffers to full-time status in 2011, reconfigured council chambers and dedicated a new library next door in the former Marshal's Office.

It all began when the council reviewed numerous contracts to cut costs, in the process cutting ties with the Blaine County Sheriff's Office and contracting with the Hailey Police Department for law enforcement coverage.

There was considerable push-back from citizens, but the change went forward.

The council also publicly accused the Sheriff's Office of overcharging the city for services in years past, which led to a "battle of the clerks" over accounting. The issue is yet to be resolved.

In the fall, the City Council launched a bond initiative to raise about $375,000 for the Bellevue Fire Station, but the initiative failed with voters. Nevertheless, the council swapped city-owned land for a new fire station and bought a $250,000 fire truck. Talk of consolidation with other fire departments has been put on the back burner for now.

City Administrator Tom Blanchard was let go, as was Public Works Director George Tanner. The city administrator position was eliminated entirely.

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Former council members Shaun Mahoney and Tammy Eaton grew dissatisfied with the sweeping changes at City Hall and took a run at reclaiming their seats, but lost—Mahoney by only one vote to Council Chair Dave Hattula.

Bellevue continued to face hefty bond payments, funded by ratepayers, for a $6 million wastewater treatment facility that went on line last year.

The city started the year with almost half its sewer bills in arrears, but ended the year in better shape, thanks to the work of a collection agency. Shutting off water services to deadbeat ratepayers also worked wonders, said the city clerk.

City leaders agreed that Bellevue residents will have to wait for the city to "grow" its way out of the high sewer bills whenever the recession ends and new homes are built in the city. New hook-ups should then reduce sewer rates for everyone else.

The city moved forward with 10,000 feet of water-main upgrades, hooking up larger lines to 200 homes across the city, and moving closer to water metering when the project is finished, possibly next year.

Main Street resident Chrystal Harper turned 106 in 2011.

Kathy Sinclair-McClatchy—who lives on a ranch in Gannett, south of Bellevue—announced to the world's press that her physician father delivered Barack Obama, putting to rest for some the "birther" debate as to the president's right to hold office.

Tony Evans: tevans@mtexpress.com




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