Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Council hits speed bumps in budget talks

New fire truck, marketing hot topics in public hearing

Express Staff Writer

    The Sun Valley City Council last week grappled with two major issues in discussing the city’s proposed $5,481,000 fiscal year 2014 budget.
    In a public hearing Thursday, Aug. 1, at Sun Valley City Hall, city leaders discussed the need to invest in a new ladder fire truck to serve the city and debated how valuable city money is in marketing the Sun Valley area.
     As a jointly shared asset between the cities of Ketchum and Sun Valley, the existing ladder truck being used is considered obsolete by insurance companies, according to Sun Valley Mayor Dewayne Briscoe.
     “I’ve had some alarming developments in regards to the Fire Department over the last six months. We have a ladder truck that is already over 25 years old,” Briscoe said. “We’ve repaired it. However, there are still some hydraulic problems with that machine. As mayor, I hate to see our firemen go up that 100-foot ladder, collapse and fall into a burning building.”
     Briscoe said he spoke to Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall about the issue and did not receive any commitment towards the possibility of splitting the cost to purchase a new ladder truck. However, Briscoe remained adamant that the issue is an urgent one, and that Sun Valley will need to take action with or without the support of Ketchum.
    “We cannot sit here, and put our citizens at risk, not knowing whether or not Ketchum is going to participate,” Briscoe said. “We have a ladder truck that has failed. It is beyond the years that it’s supposed to be. It’s got us at risk that could create potential for a big liability.”
     Councilman Nils Ribi echoed Briscoe’s sentiments.
    “We need to move. We need to put that money in the account,” he said. “Otherwise, we are failing at our biggest duty, which is health, safety and welfare. If we don’t find the money in our budget, somehow, some way, we have totally failed.”
     During the discussion of how to work with Ketchum’s government to address the problem, Councilwoman Michelle Griffith strongly recommended that the Sun Valley and Ketchum city councils convene in a joint meeting. Griffith said the meeting should take place before the deadline for budget approval on Oct. 1.
     However, Briscoe was less optimistic a joint meeting would solve the issue, as only two members of the Sun Valley City Council attended the last joint meeting.
     While Briscoe and Griffith disagreed on how exactly to replace the outdated fire truck, both expressed confidence that a 10-year lease could be a valid solution in the case Ketchum’s government is unwilling to help.
     Griffith told the Mountain Express after the meeting that leasing a new fire truck would be a preferred alternative to buying one, since a new ladder truck would cost more than $1 million.
Panel divided on marketing
     Another point of division during the budget hearing was a debate over how much money the council should spend on marketing Sun Valley to attract both new residents and visitors. Several citizens’ comments urging the council to support marketing efforts also led to a contentious debate on the state of the Sun Valley economy as a whole.
     Ketchum-area resident John Sofro said he believes the Sun Valley tourist economy is not headed in the right direction.
     “We know that occupancy here is down since last year,” he said. “We know that retail business and restaurant businesses are at best break-even from last year. We have fewer hotel rooms than we had 15 years ago. Those are not components for a healthy economy.
    “It is time for us to fully return to our historical economic base, which is tourism,” Sofro said. “We did the second-home experiment, and for a while it worked, but long-term it didn’t. It’s time for this community to really come of age and have a vision. It’s time to for this community to invite new people into it. The only way we can do that is to market ourselves. We are the forgotten resort. We were always the most iconic brand, and now most people have never heard of us.”
     Despite the impassioned concerns voiced by some residents, Councilman Franz Suhadolnik remained unconvinced that the local economy is struggling.
     “I don’t think the economy is as bad as other people say it is,” he said. “[For the Sun Valley Center for the Arts wine tasting]. 1,500 tickets were sold at $75 a head. There’s a lot of money floating around here, and somebody is making a lot of money.”
     Suhadolnik also said he does not believe marketing the Sun Valley area will help the economy, and he would instead like to see the city’s funds go towards repairing its infrastructure.
     “As we’ve put out millions for marketing, we have neglected the infrastructure of this city,” he said. “There’s hardly a road in this city that does not need to be repaired.”
     Ribi also voiced disappointment in the area’s marketing efforts, and shared Suhadolnik’s desire to place greater focus on fixing the roads and bike paths.
    A vote on funding for the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance—which is funded in part by both Ketchum and Sun Valley—could be a tie, with Griffith and council President Bob Youngman appearing to support the proposed allocation of $250,000 for fiscal year 2014. On the other hand, Ribi and Suhadolnik seem to favor cutting marketing funding to instead aid the city’s infrastructure.
     With no amendments passed or proposed during the meeting, the next reading of the budget is set to take place on Thursday, Aug. 15.

Sun Valley budget by the Numbers:

  • Fiscal year 2014 total budget: $5,481,395.  
  • Fiscal year 2013:  $5,451,736.
  • Police Department 2014 budget:  $1,160,569.
  • Fiscal year 2013:  $1,255,202.
  • Street Department 2014 budget: $542,928  
  • Fiscal year 2013: $705,698.
  • Street & Path Fund 2014:  $265,555.  
  • 2013:  $256,969.
  • Fire Department 2014: $732,629.
  • 2013: $613,711.
  • Marketing Alliance funding for 2014: $250,000  
  • 2013: $250,000.

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