Wednesday, July 30, 2014

What do you think about city salaries, budget priorities?


    The Idaho Mountain Express July 23 editorial questioned several items in the draft Ketchum budget. As mayor, I share many of those concerns. Others need clarification.
    First, let’s review how we adopt a budget for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. The mayor and city administrator create a draft. We include choices requested by City Council members and citizens even though we may not support every item.
    A major concern is a proposed 2 percent raise for city employees. The Express legitimately questioned this, given that local-option-tax revenues are down. The Express said it well: “… when businesses suffer revenue losses, … employees don’t get raises even if the cost of living rises.”
    Unfortunately, the city’s challenges are multifold. We face an 18 percent increase in health insurance premiums. The cost of all benefits already ranges from 29 to 110 percent of salaries. This is unsustainable. We must ask employees to pick up a greater share of benefit costs. For many, their net income will remain the same, even with a 2 percent wage increase.

As to Mountain Rides, the proposal to cut funding has been dropped.

    The proposal to give firefighters a slightly higher cost-of-living increase also may seem out of kilter. However, it is less than half of their request in contract negotiations. The goal is to bring their salaries into parity as they did not have a cost-of-living increase in their first union contract.
    Other issues that need clarifying are recommendations to add employees and to cut allocations to Wagon Days and Mountain Rides.
    In terms of employees, Ketchum plans to make two three-quarters-time positions in Parks and Recreation full-time. Parks and Recreation serves an increasing number of children and young families, a demographic Ketchum is trying hard to attract. Without adequate staff, we risk undermining this goal.
    The department also has taken on responsibilities, including assisting the Ketchum Arts and Ketchum Events commissions, in recent years. Past budgets have made no provisions for the extra staff time required. Events, as the Express noted, are critical to our economy.
    In planning, we want to fill a vacancy. There will be a net savings, as a new person will start at a lower salary. In the Fire Department, a one-time federal grant previously funded three positions. We believe we need all three firefighters, and are debating whether we can afford this.
    For the Wagon Days celebration, the overall budget will be approximately $5,000 less. Wagon Days has money in reserves, the government equivalent of a household savings account. We have asked Wagon Days to dip into its reserves, just as a family goes into savings when income is down. Wagon Days officials concur with this approach.
    As to Mountain Rides, the proposal to cut funding has been dropped.
    Finally, if local-option-tax revenues increase, we expect to invest the increase in capital improvements, particularly sidewalks.
    We thank the Express for bringing attention to the questions facing the city. We want to hear from others, too. Please share your opinions with the City Council on Aug. 4 at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall or by email ( ) or letter.

    Nina Jonas is the mayor of Ketchum.

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