Monday night’s Ketchum City Council meeting featured plenty of debate—but few decisions—on Mayor Neil Bradshaw’s proposed $24.9 million budget for fiscal 2020.

From city staffing levels, to health care benefits, to city-funded events in Town Square, to the city’s contract with a graphic design artist, the council perused many options for balancing the budget while possibly staving off a $100,000 cut that Bradshaw has proposed to Visit Sun Valley and Mountain Rides.

The council voted to approve the first reading of the budget but held off on any major changes until the second reading. Bradshaw will tweak some of his spending proposals and return to the council at its next meeting on Aug. 5, when the second reading is scheduled. The budget requires three readings to take effect on Oct. 1.

In May, the council met at a workshop to discuss how to close an anticipated $771,000 shortfall in the city’s proposed general fund for fiscal 2020, which totals $10.6 million. Frick said the May workshop featured “raw numbers” that, in past years, city officials have resolved behind closed doors prior to the mayor’s budget rollout in early summer.

Bradshaw closed that gap in his budget proposal. City budgets must be balanced according to law. But on Monday, the council balked at some of the cuts he employed to close the gap.

“This is our new norm,” Bradshaw said. “We can re-jig the pie. This is kind of my best effort to re-allocate it.”

The long-term solution, according to Councilman Michael David and Councilwoman Amanda Breen, is to find new revenue sources. David urged his fellow council members to draw down the city’s reserves on a one-time basis to prevent a cut to transit and marketing services, but only if that is immediately followed by pursuit of new revenue that would replenish the reserves. The other three council members didn’t agree.

Breen asked if the problem had been traced to increases in salaries for city staff or growth in benefit costs, or had been attributed to another cause. She spoke against a $40,000 cut to Visit Sun Valley and a $65,000 cut to Mountain Rides proposed by Bradshaw’s budget.

“What’s causing this big hole that we’re in?” Breen asked. “What got us there? We clearly need to talk about revenue. There’s not an easy place to find that money.”

Councilman Jim Slanetz asked if the city staffing level is higher than necessary.

“Are we sustainable with all of the staff that we have?” Slanetz asked. “It’s something that we should look at. I don’t have the answer for where we should go.”

Breen said Slanetz’s suggestion was worth pursuing, and she also questioned if the city could afford 3 percent salary raises for staff in fiscal 2020.

Councilwoman Courtney Hamilton asked why the city isn’t more aggressive in pursuing grant funding, noting that Hailey has been securing grants. Frick replied that Hailey scores more competitively than Ketchum in grant applications, but Ketchum has a staff member who will pursue more.

Hamilton noted that city staff accounts for 60 percent of the city’s spending and asked about increases in costs of providing dental benefits. The cost of providing dental insurance is increasing drastically, she noted. In the Administrative Services Department, the cost is budgeted to grow from $5,695 in fiscal 2018 to $11,172 in fiscal 2020.

Other departments will experience similar cost increases for dental insurance; the Streets Division’s is budgeted to grow from $4,719 in fiscal 2018 to $12,506 in fiscal 2020. The Fire Department’s dental insurance cost will grow from $9,368 in fiscal 2018 to $17,536 next year.

Finance Director Grant Gager replied that switching insurers would cut the number of care providers down to three firms in the Wood River Valley, thereby reducing staff members’ care options.

Breen questioned spending $54,000 per year on a design contract with local artist Molly Snee, and the $85,500 that’s budgeted for city-sponsored events, including those in Town Square.

Bradshaw replied that Snee’s artwork supports marketing for the events. The events would be pointless without marketing, he said.

“I get so much kudos,” Bradshaw said. “There’s no point in doing events if we don’t market them.”

David responded that several years ago, Ketchum had large, privately organized events like MASSV and 48Straight that handled their own marketing.

“We have a precedent,” David said. “We didn’t have to put any marketing dollars in them as a city.”

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