Express photo by Emily Jones

Ketchum’s budget debate spilled over to a meeting of the Sun Valley Air Service Board on Wednesday, with Mayor Neil Bradshaw discussing LOT shortfalls at Sun Valley City Hall.

The Ketchum City Council held a special meeting on Wednesday to discuss next fiscal year’s budget proposal, but proceedings were hampered by tensions between councilmembers and the mayor over the use of face masks.

Mayor Neil Bradshaw maintains that unless the public is invited into council chambers, the chambers are not a “public space” and therefore masks are not required so long as distance is maintained—per the language in the city’s health order. But councilmembers Amanda Breen and Courtney Hamilton, who both attended the meeting remotely by video conference, said they would continue to attend meetings remotely so long as Bradshaw and Ketchum City Administrator Suzanne Frick opt not to wear masks, regardless of distance, inside.

Bradshaw said he will always adhere to someone’s request to put on a mask if it will make them more comfortable, but both Breen and Hamilton reiterated that city leaders should lead by example. If the city expects residents and visitors to follow the order without additional urging, they argued, city officials should act likewise.

Earlier in the day, Bradshaw and Frick did not wear masks during a Sun Valley Air Service board meeting on Wednesday at Sun Valley City Hall.

That was all prelude to the only new business on Wednesday’s agenda: the proposed $33.6 million budget for fiscal 2021, which the city unveiled this week. That number is inflated by the bond voters passed in November to fund the Ketchum Fire Station on Saddle Road. Aside from that money, though, cuts have been made in nearly every department and employee raises have been suspended to contend with revenues curtailed by COVID-19.

The city expects a 34 percent decrease in local option tax revenue, projecting roughly $850,000 less than the current budget. And, it projects a downward trend in revenue from licenses, permits and fees associated with construction. According to Frick, although there has been plenty of anecdotal evidence that remodels and construction are taking place, funds from associated permits have generally lagged and are not anticipated to be reflected in the fiscal 2021 budget.

The proposed budget also cut from contracts for services with outside agencies. It cuts all money to Visit Sun Valley, which received $400,000 this fiscal year. Mountain Rides would get about $155,000 less, a cut of roughly 25 percent. The Blaine County Sheriff’s Office, which operates Ketchum’s police division, would see 5 percent less, trimming one officer position in the process.

If approved as written, employees would not receive raises this year, according to Bradshaw, in order to allocate the limited projected revenues to other essential city services.

Hamilton voiced her concerns following the budget proposal, stating that this year has become her “tipping point” regarding the lack of transparency in the budget process. Nowhere in the budget does the city mention its comprehensive plan or its goals and objectives, she noted during the meeting.

“What I really want to know is, how did everything go last year and what can we do better and what can we maybe do without?” Hamilton said.

Apparently, she was told by some city employees that they were not allowed to speak to her without Bradshaw being present, “which I find concerning and frustrating,” Hamilton said.

“Our city staff is the best resources we have in terms of understanding what’s going on and what we have the potential to do in the future. I think it’s quite frankly frightening for the future of our community if we’re not taking the perspective of our staff into account when we’re creating our budget every year.”

Bradshaw said department heads are “integrally involved in the budget process.”

The city will be invited to give their opinions on the budget during Monday’s regularly scheduled City Council meeting, which starts at 4 p.m. on August 3. The public will be permitted into council chambers one at a time to give their comment, or are welcome to submit their comments via email to participate@ketchumidaho.org.

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