out of whack
The tail is wagging the dog in Ketchum
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.