The Ketchum City Council on Monday voiced its support for placing a bond measure before voters this November to fund construction of a new fire station.
The bond will seek at least $10 million in funding, and possibly more, depending on what option is presented to voters. Ballot language is due to the Blaine County Clerk’s Office by mid-September to be placed on the Nov. 5 ballot.
The council also voiced support for acquiring a new truck for the Ketchum Fire Department, which is called a quint. The truck will serve as a combination of a pumper and a ladder truck.
The purchase would cost a little less than $1 million. The city has the option of using about $500,000 from a capital reserve as a down payment, and then making $57,000 annual lease payments for a 10-year period. Or, the city could spend $89,000 in annual lease payments over a 15-year period, for a total of $1,335,000, Interim Fire Chief Tom Bowman said.
The council will make a decision on how to purchase the vehicle at an upcoming meeting.
Those steps—among others the city has taken and intends to—are aimed at swaying the Ketchum Rural Fire Protection District’s board of commissioners. The Ketchum Rural board will meet May 14 to deliberate on whether to continue its $325,000 contract with the city of Ketchum, or pursue a new agreement with the city of Sun Valley.
“We’re stepping up our game here as much as we possibly can,” Councilman Jim Slanetz said.
The council discussed the possibility of acquiring a property owned by Brian Barsotti on Northwood Way, next to the Sun Valley Community School dormitory, which would be used for the new station. That would add an estimated $3 million cost to the project. Construction of the fire station is estimated to cost $8 million to $10 million.
Another possibility is using the city-owned dirt parking lot north of the Wood River Community YMCA. Ed Lawson, an attorney representing the YMCA, told the council that the organization must retain its ability to use 150 parking spaces and maintain adequate snow storage there, or else it would oppose the bond measure. The YMCA has access to 188 paved parking spaces now.
“You need to consider more than just the land cost and operational needs of the Ketchum Fire Department,” Lawson said. “The YMCA will insist that its parking and snow storage rights are enforced. The YMCA would not take any pleasure in being in opposition.”
Jason Shearer, executive director of the YMCA, said the organization has presented alternative options to the city, such as the city-owned property on Lewis Street that’s used as an impound lot and accommodates a fire training facility.
He said the YMCA needs access to parking to continue to serve members who are elderly or face challenges with mobility.
He called for the City Council to lead a master planning process for the property. That process would weigh the YMCA’s desire to eventually expand its facility with needs for parking and potential other uses the city government may propose to the north and south of the existing YMCA building.
“We must have access to parking,” Shearer said. “We’ve proposed several alternatives. We’re not opposed to any of these community projects. The Y must see a comprehensive master plan. These decisions have long-range impacts on the community.”
The council did not make decisions on the location of the new fire station, although the Barsotti property and the dirt parking lot were the top preferences.
Councilman Michael David said the Barsotti property is large enough to host a fire station with room to expand and other needs such as a garage for parking Ketchum Police Department vehicles and housing for firefighters. Importantly, he said it would circumvent the dispute with the YMCA and a potential source of significant opposition to the bond measure.
“The voters would appreciate the larger lot,” David said. “We could develop large community support. There’s a lot of opportunities on that lot.”
Councilwoman Amanda Breen said that would make the overall cost of the bond measure increase.
Councilwoman Courtney Hamilton asked what role the Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency could have in financing the fire station’s construction.
City Administrator Suzanne Frick replied that a new law imposed by the Idaho Legislature requires a public vote on an urban renewal agency’s financing for a public project such as a fire station, if the project’s public financing sources amount to more than 51 percent of the cost.
With regards to the Ketchum fire station, that would mean that voters would have to approve two ballot measures this November. Frick said she didn’t want to risk a scenario where voters would approve one ballot question but not the other.
The KURA could pay for infrastructure costs outside of the building’s construction, she said.
“I don’t have an appetite for an additional URA question on the ballot,” Breen said.
Bradshaw said an extra $3 million would solve a lot of problems.
“If anyone’s got $3 million, that would really help,” Bradshaw said.
The Ketchum Rural board’s impending decision on May 14 loomed over Monday night’s meeting. The district provides about $325,000 annually to the city of Ketchum, which funds four firefighter positions.
“I don’t want to lose that contract,” Councilwoman Courtney Hamilton said. “There’s been a lot of feedback from the rural commissioners. We’ve done a lot of fixing.”
If that funding goes away, Ketchum would have to find an additional $325,000 in its budget to pay for the firefighters’ positions, or else face another difficult proposition. Those positions are necessary to meet the requirements of the Blaine County Ambulance District, which pays the city about $1.1 million annually.
“You would absolutely have to have the staffing required to meet that contract,” said Blaine County Commissioner Angenie McCleary, who sits on the Ambulance District board.