It’s official: Ketchum Mayor Neil Bradshaw’s fire station proposal has advanced through City Hall and will make its way onto the ballot this fall.
After months of deliberation and number crunching, the City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to send the $11.5 million general-obligation bond to voters on Nov. 5 for a “yes” or “no” verdict.
If approved by a two-thirds majority, the bond will finance construction of a new fire station on a city-owned lot on Saddle Road, just north of the Wood River Community YMCA. Construction would begin in May 2020, according to an estimate from Assistant City Administrator Lisa Enourato, and likely wrap up in 2021.
For many in City Hall on Tuesday, the decision couldn’t come fast enough.
Gary Hoffman, who has completed training at Ketchum’s current station as a member of the Sun Valley Volunteer Fire Department, said the opportunity to start with a clean slate should be seized upon.
“To put it charitably, [the fire station] is an unholy mess. With code violations all over, cramped spaces—it should have been condemned years ago,” he said.
Forty-five-year Ketchum resident Jim Plomasen agreed that the existing structure on East Avenue is substandard.
“This is a miserable building and we knew that four years ago,” Plomasen said, alluding to the city’s proposed $23.1 million bond that failed in 2015, halting plans for construction of a new station.
Though efforts to correct the building’s structural and asbestos-related problems have been underway since 2001, city officials say the number of code violations is simply too high to continue with renovation.
In 2006 and 2007, McGrath Consulting found the Ketchum fire station—which is housed within a restored 1970s car dealership along with City Hall—unable to withstand potential damage from a major earthquake, flood or fire.
While citizens finally have a chance to fix this long-running problem by checking “yes” on the municipal bond in November, they will also agree to increase their property taxes by $20.52 per $100,000 value.
For a property of $717,000, Ketchum’s average home value according to a staff city report, the increase would boil down to $147.13 annually for the bond’s 25-year payback period. For a property of $1 million, that figure would increase to $205.20.
Bradshaw said that while most residents seem to be OK with that small of a tax hike, some have balked at the idea.
“There are always people who don’t want increased taxes, but most are aware of our need for a new fire station, and that our insurance premiums will stay lower with a great facility,” he said.
The projected 14,000-square-foot facility on Saddle Road, an upgrade from the current 6,000 square feet at East Avenue, will provide four large drive-through apparatus bays to accommodate the wide turns of large ladder trucks, according to blueprints from Cole Architects.
Other priorities include providing adequate sleeping quarters and conserving energy.
On Tuesday night, Ketchum Finance Director Grant Gager ironed out cost estimates of obtaining a Silver LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. To get the $35,000 stamp, he said, investments would need to be made in sustainability measures like effective insulation, efficient plumbing designs and energy-efficient lighting.
At the lectern, Ketchum landlord Kingsley Murphy expressed concern about the pace of the project and the “whack-a-mole” effect he saw in its planning.
“I think we’re jumping ahead of ourselves here—this should be something that’ll last 30, 50 years and we’re just trying to throw it all together now,” he said. “First we were going to build the fire station on the south end of [Lewis Street], now it’s on the north end. It was 10 million, now it’s 11 million.”
Murphy said that instead of rushing to meet the Sept. 17 deadline when ballot language is due, the first priority should be appointing a fire chief and resolving existing tension with the department. He also voiced displeasure over the tax increase.
“Stop increasing our operating expenses,” he told the council.
In rebuttal, Hoffman pointed out that with Ketchum’s $3 billion taxable value of real estate, the tax hike was essentially chump change.
“Eleven million to protect billions of dollars in property values and human lives? If anything’s a no-brainer, this is it,” he said.
John Rathfon of Ketchum Professional Firefighters 4758 provided a simple statement of support from the department.
“We support the council and the mayor in their pursuit of a new fire station,” he said.
In a Tuesday interview, Bradshaw said constructing the fire station near the YMCA would grant firefighters quick access to state Highway 75, Warm Springs Road and Saddle Road, the main city arteries.
When asked about any community opposition to a new fire station, he cited two common concerns.
“We’ve had some concern about the kids at skate park, but the reality is that no location is kid-free—we also have kids downtown at the library,” he said.
Another concern was sirens.
“We have about 1,000 calls per year and about 300 of those are false alarms, so you’re really talking about two calls per day,” he said. “It’s quite manageable—this is not New York City.”
Bradshaw added that the city hired a task force to examine at 22 locations, both on private and public land across the city, and the Saddle Road property was deemed to be the best available location.
“If you were doing Town Planning 101, you would never put a fire station in the middle of the town—you’d put it close to the main arteries,” he said. “If we wait for the perfect location, we will wait forever.”
Open houses will be held on Oct. 1, 15 and 29 to educate the public on the proposal.