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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 


For the week of August 13 - 19, 2003

Editorials

Ketchum budget
out of whack


The tail is wagging the dog in Ketchum City Hall.

The mayor and city council annually explain why the city canít complete sidewalks, contribute to a valley-wide bus system, improve dangerous city intersections, and acquire land for parking, snow storage or affordable community housing. This year, too, they will recite a litany that has become all too familiar.

Yet, the city is having no problem funding whopping salary increases for department heads, and platinum health care, dental, disability and retirement benefits for all city employees.

In deliberations over the past six weeks, the mayor and city council havenít flinched at proposed salary increases for city department heads that range from 18 percent to 30 percent. They havenít blinked at proposed staffing increases. And, they are on track to approve a budget that contains benefit increases of more than 33 percent.

The increases are startling in a year in which the increase in the national consumer price index is running near 2.4 percent and local option tax revenues are running 5.2 percent below last year.

Blaine Countyís cost of living is high relative to other areas, and Ketchum has become sensitive to that. But this high?

Last year, the city offered a firm handshake, congratulations and going-away gifts to its retiring city administrator, fire chief and police chief. Then it hired replacements at salaries the long-time employees only dreamed of.

Some examples:

The city administratorís salary is set to go up next year to $130,224, an increase of $10,224 or 8 percent. The administrator replaced a retiring official last year whose salary was in the $80,000 range.

The planning director is slated to be paid $72,180, an 18 percent increase of $10,896.

The police chiefís salary is slated to go up to $89,580, a 19 percent increase of $14,200.

The fire chiefís salary is budgeted at $88,608, a 30 percent increase of $20,028.

The street department superintendentís salary is listed at $69,312, a 20 percent increase of $11,334.

In addition to the good salariesóeven in expensive Blaine Countyóthe city pays for all but a very small percentage of the cost of medical insurance for city workers and their families. It covers those costs for the mayor and members of the city council as well. It pays for dental and disability insurance, and offers a lucrative retirement plan through the state.

In real terms, the health benefits and additional insurance and contributions to the retirement program amount to an average of an additional 51 percent of salary.

In other words, for every $10,000 in salary, city workers bring home an additional $5,100 a year is in benefits.

The city insures 79 employees, 41 spouses and 20 children.

The cityís health insurance costs are projected to increase 27% next year and total $1.1 million. Thatís a handsome hunk of the cityís $7.8 million budget. Other benefits are slated to increase 11 percent, or $88,762.

Of its total budget, the city will pay $4.1 million for salaries and benefits.

The cityís medical insurance coverage is every employer and employeeís dream. It pays 100 percent for participating physician services, 90 percent of hospital expenses, carries a $200 deductible and limits out-of-pocket expenses to $1,333 per person.

Sweet. Much sweeter than the majority of employers in Ketchum and Blaine County can provide.

How will the city pay for its higher salaries and benefits next year? By cutting building and plant improvements, foregoing property acquisitions and shoving the problem forward into next year by agreeing to spend $500,000 more than it expects to take in next year.

Ouch.

The budget is out of whack. Yet, the city is on track to approve the proposed budget in a hearing on Monday at 5:30.

Last week the city council belatedly set up a committee to take a look at what the city should do to bring expenses in line over the coming year. Yet, the coming year may be too late if the city spends as planned.

Thereís no question the cityís hardworking employees should be paid well, or that the city must offer competitive compensation packages to attract talent.

However, the city needs to strike a balance between salaries and benefits, and services and infrastructure.

Itís time the city came into the real world.

Itís time the mayor explained the "wisdom" of absorbing double-digit salary and benefit increases without question and without greater participation by city workers.

Itís time the city council explains why it is in the cityís interest to cut infrastructure improvements in order to fund city jobs at the levels called for in the budget.

Itís time someone in leadership gets a grip on the tail thatís wagging this dog.

 

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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.