Friday, May 17, 2013

Voters to decide on bike path levy

$3.5 million tax proposal would fund reconstruction

Express Staff Writer

     Blaine County voters will decide on Tuesday if repairs and reconstruction on the Wood River Trail bike path are worth a two-year, $3.5 million levy on property taxes.

     The Blaine County Recreation District approved a resolution in February to put a measure on the May 21 ballot asking residents to approve a $3.5 million levy that would allow the district to reconstruct the entire 20-mile trail from Hulen Meadows north of Ketchum to Gannett Road south of Bellevue.

     The levy would last two years, collecting $1.75 million each year, or about $21 per $100,000 of taxable property value. The district includes the entire county; all registered county residents will be eligible to vote.

     A report compiled by Galena Engineers states that the trail is experiencing “alligator cracking” (cracking in a web pattern, mostly on the edges of the trail surface), horizontal cracks and cracks in patching material that has been used to fill previous cracks.

     The report states that many of the problems are occurring in miles 1 through 4 of the trail north of Ketchum, the first segment of the trail to be built in 1984.

     BCRD Executive Director Jim Keating said last week that projects would be completed on 13 different sections of the path over two years, and crews would work from south to north. The reconstruction mostly involves smoothing out the path’s asphalt surface and recovering the milled asphalt with a new, smooth riding surface.

Former BCRD Executive Director Mary Austin Crofts has lobbied for the levy, saying the trail is “highly used” and “highly loved,” as well as a unique recreational asset. Dozens of other county residents have weighed in both during public meetings and in letters to the editor to support the levy and the bike path.

“Surely the people who own the thousand-dollar bikes that whiz by us all can pay $100 a summer to help fund bike path upkeep.”
Mary Ann Davidson
Levy critic

     However, not all are convinced of the levy’s merits. Ketchum resident Mary Ann Davidson said in a letter to the Idaho Mountain Express that she believes funding the path through property taxes isn’t fair. Davidson said property owners won’t see an increase in home value due to an improved bike path—and that people who live in rental housing won’t have to pay the levy, though they might use the bike path. (Nonetheless, rental-property owners would have to pay the tax levy.)

     “A modest, consistent and longer-term use fee would be fairer and better,” she wrote. “We all pay to use the Nordic trails in winter—why shouldn’t we pay a similar fee to use the bike trails in summer? Surely the people who own the thousand-dollar bikes that whiz by us all can pay $100 a summer to help fund bike path upkeep.”

     Hailey resident Mark Cook said in a letter sent to the Idaho Mountain Express that he is concerned about the impact of the levy on those homeowners who are on fixed incomes, mostly senior citizens who may not ever use the bike path. Cook said a better solution might be a fundraising drive by the Champions of the Wood River Valley, a group that is lobbying for the levy.

     “There are 1,000 people in this valley who perhaps would love to cover the repair as a tax deduction,” he said. “Why wasn’t this approach even considered?”

     The exact ballot language will be: “Shall the Board of Directors of the Blaine County Recreation District, Blaine County, Idaho, be authorized and empowered to certify an additional levy for the purpose of funding the lawful expenses to reconstruct, resurface and rehabilitate the existing 20-mile Wood River Trail multi-use path from Bellevue to north of Ketchum to safely ensure another estimated thirty years of useful life for use for non-motorized biking, walking, hiking, running, horseback riding, rollerblading and cross-country skiing?”

     A vote “in favor” means the voter supports the levy; a vote “against” means the voter does not want the levy to be enacted.

3 of 4 cities endorse bike path levy

Two Wood River Valley cities have approved—and a third is soon expected to approve—resolutions in support of a $3.5 million levy proposed by the Blaine County Recreation District to extensively repair the aging Wood River Trail bike path.

On April 15, Bellevue became the first city to pass a resolution to that effect. On Monday, May 6, Ketchum followed suit. At a Hailey City Council meeting on April 15, the council members discussed adopting such a resolution. They are expected to ratify it at their next meeting on Monday, May 20.

At a Sun Valley City Council meeting on Thursday, May 2, Mayor Dewayne Briscoe asked council members if they wanted to take action on the issue. They did not. At the meeting, Councilman Nils Ribi said he supports the project. However, Councilman Franz Suhadolnik said he could not support the project because the BCRD “has never” set aside money for capital improvements and because Sun Valley will contribute more than Hailey to fund the property tax-based levy, even though Hailey has a bigger population.

“It’s not equitable,” he said.

Kate Wutz:

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