Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Rick Davis ends 20 years of public service

Four years as mayor marked by economic turmoil


By TONY EVANS
Express Staff Writer

Hailey’s former Mayor Rick Davis has two golden shovels to keep as mementos of his four years in office. One was used during groundbreaking ceremonies for the St. Luke’s clinic. The other was used to officiate at a groundbreaking of the Hailey Rodeo Arena. Photo by David N. Seelig

Hailey Mayor Rick Davis is stepping down after four years in office this week. He is also moving on from a total of 20 years in public service to the city of Hailey.

Davis took some time to reflect on his career as a public servant while clearing out his office at Hailey City Hall last week.

"Twenty years ago when I first had a seat on the Hailey City Council we had to raise a bond to redo all of the streets in the city. People were up in arms. Eventually we passed the bond with 83 percent of votes," Davis said.

A similar situation confronts Hailey Residents today as city officials await the return of a community survey aimed at prioritizing capital improvement projects. The survey also asks voters to decide how they want to fund the projects, which will include renovating many streets in the city.

"The citizens will have to decide what they are willing to pay for," Davis said.

With rapid growth, the city coffers were relatively full before Davis took office as mayor four years ago, but things quickly took a turn for the worse.

"My first day on the job I called the city staff together and told them that cuts were coming, but I didn't know just how bad it would turn out to be," said Davis, who also works as a title company executive.

"I could see how [real estate] sales were diminishing, so we began to look at grants three years ago to create our own stimulus program, you might say. It worked pretty well, especially with the help of grants administrator Tracy Anderson."

Nevertheless, 10 full-time city staff positions were cut during his tenure as mayor to balance the city's budgets.

"I wanted to be more of an economic development guy when I came into office, to attract businesses to the city and create jobs. Instead I became more of a fiscal manager. Every week I was asking my treasurer what the budget looked like. It consumed much of my time."

Among Davis' regrets are the way the city dealt with developers before the real estate and housing crash hit in full force.

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"I learned that if you have money coming in from a development it must come up front," he said.

Old Cutters developer John Campbell is suing Hailey in bankruptcy court over the city's claim that he owes it $2.5 million in annexation fees.

Sweetwater developer J. Kevin Adams filed a similar $2 million lawsuit against the city last year. The parties settled, with the city's taking clear title to property on River Street for development of a rental-housing project for seniors.

"The money we expected from Old Cutters could have gone to do some good things in the city," Davis said.

Among his proudest accomplishments, Davis lists establishment of the Community Development Department (which combines zoning and building) and the Sustainability Department, which is geared toward energy reduction.

"We made City Hall more friendly," he said.

He also praised the efforts of staff and city voters who made possible the redevelopment of the Hailey Rodeo Arena, which Davis said will host concerts and an additional rodeo this summer.

"The rodeo arena will be a boon for the city, because the events will improve the LOT revenue," he said.

Despite a struggling economy, Davis officiated at many ribbon-cuttings and groundbreaking ceremonies.

One wish he still has for the city is to build reclamation lines to irrigate fields south of the city with nutrient-rich wastewater, rather than treating it completely before dumping it in the Big Wood River.

"I would have liked to see that happen," he said.

Davis said the still-looming airport issue has to be addressed in two ways at once.

"The city has to increase reliability and at the same time work toward relocation. I hope all sides can come an agreement as to what has to be done."

Davis said he plans to travel now that he has more time on his hands, but that he will not leave for long.

"Public service was my way of paying back a community that has been very good to me and my family. Hailey will always be my town," he said.

Tony Evans: tevans@mtexpress.com




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