Summer in Ketchum will look drastically different this year compared to years past, thanks to a pandemic that has changed the world. But one tradition will remain: The Big Hitch ore wagons will still roll—mostly because the 20-mule team that pulls the historic wagons has already been contracted—though the rest of the Wagon Days Parade has been canceled.
So have most other typical tidings of city’s summer, as the health concerns—and fiscal stresses—of the COVID-19 pandemic stretch towards fall.
“The idea is to spend nothing now because it’s unclear what Sept. 1 will look like,” Mayor Neil Bradshaw said during a special City Council meeting Monday.
Bradshaw said the current strategy was to not plan anything or write any checks until there is more certainty into what the summer could look like, based on social distancing guidelines and the rise and fall of the novel coronavirus. For now, the only thing certain is that the six ore wagons will make their way down Main Street. Whether the 25,000 visitors who normally come into town for the parade will be welcome is unclear.
Beyond the reduction of the historic Labor Day celebration, several other summer events have been canceled altogether.
Ketch’em Alive, Jazz in the Park, the Pump Park Competition, the Skate Park Competition, Summer Solstice Festival, Movie Nights, Fair on the Square and the Memorial Day Celebration have all been nixed due to budget restraints. Each of those events would normally be partly funded through the city’s local-option tax, but due to the city’s two-month closure to tourists, the events were canceled to offset the projected loss in revenue anticipated due to the virus.
Will Caldwell, the founder of both Ketch’em Alive and Jazz in the Park, said the city’s decision was hardly surprising, based on the current outlook.
“It’s pretty tough to imagine any semblance of the normal Ketch’em Alive if it’s going to be so restrictive. The city’s feeling the squeeze, sponsors are feeling the squeeze, bands are calling off tours—there seems to be a lot of reasons why it doesn’t make sense,” Caldwell said.
The free concert series occurs weekly in Forest Service Park, drawing crowds of hundreds each time, often with numbers exceeding a thousand. 2019 was a major anniversary—20 years—and though 2020 has been called off, Caldwell hopes to get the ball rolling again in 2021.
“It always has been about the community coming together. It’s a convergence of people, not a separation,” Caldwell said. “If social distance is the norm, Ketch’em Alive is the opposite. If people can’t come together, then it’s not serving its own purpose.”
Budget outlook bleak
The city expects anywhere between $500,000 and $1.15 million in lost revenue due to the pandemic, Bradshaw said. On Monday, he presented to the council a series of budgetary cuts that will be done in phases to balance the projected losses. Because it is a reduction in the budget and not an increase, council approval was not required under Idaho code.
The first phase of decreases included curtailing overtime, implementing a hiring freeze on vacant and seasonal positions—including a director of planning and building—and reducing contracts for services like communications and city graphics. Each month, staff will review general fund and LOT revenue receipts to determine if another round of cuts is needed, according to a budget recommendations document included in Monday’s meeting packet.
When asked by a council member, Bradshaw said City Administrator Suzanne Frick would step in as director of planning and building until the hiring freeze is lifted and the position is permanently filled. Bradshaw thanked former Director John Gaeddert for his work with the city. Hired in April 2018, Gaeddert initially planned to leave his position at the end of July, but due to the city’s financial situation, asked to retire early and free the last few months of his salary for the city to use elsewhere, according to Bradshaw.
Discussions on the city’s fiscal 2021 budget will occur in July and August, when there will be more information on the general fund and LOT revenue projections.
As far as what the rest of the summer will look like, Ketchum still has four special events remaining on the calendar: the Sun Valley Arts and Crafts Festival scheduled for Aug. 6-9 in Atkinson Park, the Sun Valley Wellness Festival scheduled for Aug. 21-23 in Forest Service Park, Shakespeare in the Park scheduled for Aug. 23-31 in Forest Service Park and Rebecca’s Private Idaho scheduled for Sept. 5 in Forest Service Park. All special events and park reservations for June have been cancelled or postponed. There are currently four park reservations for July with the number of attendees ranging from 50 to 150, according to the city’s event recommendations document included in Monday’s meeting packet.
Moving forward, the City Council suggested the city should have a nonliability clause in the permits issued for park reservations, warning event planners that cancellations or postponements may be ordered if state or city officials limit social gatherings once again.
As for live music, the city dedicated an additional $5,000 to the Music in Town Square budget.
“This will add life into Town Square for the community to enjoy,” the recommendations document states.
“Feels a little unfair,” Councilwoman Courtney Hamilton said of the city’s reallocations of funds to one live music event after cancelling another (Ketch’em Alive). Bradshaw said Ketch’em Alive takes much more planning than single artists at Town Square. Councilman Jim Slanetz suggested the city set aside some funds for Ketch’em Alive in the event that large gatherings will be acceptable again by the end of the summer. Councilman Michael David also suggested that this could be the summer to get a sampling of more local music, allowing for little planning on the city’s part, and likely smaller crowds in Forest Service Park.
The city is also mulling shutting down a portion of Fourth Street, which skirts one side of Town Square, to vehicle access, allowing for an open pedestrian and bicyclist area.
Earlier in the day, the city’s Urban Renewal Agency allocated $25,000 to infrastructure and events in the area if the city ultimately decides to close it to cars.
“I think this is the perfect summer to try,” said Councilwoman Amanda Breen, who also serves on the URA board.