Ketchum City Council members on Monday unanimously voted to advance a draft fiscal year 2022 budget of approximately $25.6 million to the next step.
The 4-0 vote allows the city to publish the draft budget for public review and move it forward for additional review by the City Council and a public hearing.
The spending plan anticipates $25,578,475 in total expenses and $22,084,277 in revenues, with the difference covered through transfers from different funds elsewhere in the budget. It calls for an allowed 3% increase in property taxes, a 4% increase in city staff salaries, converting one part-time Streets Department position to full-time and reinstating one full-time Police Department patrol position that was defunded because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The overall tone and tenor of this budget is about balancing the needs of our capital improvement projects, not only this year but in coming years, and also to recognize and compensate our excellent employees,” Mayor Neil Bradshaw said.
The 2022 fiscal year will run from Oct. 1, 2021, through Sept. 30, 2022.
Bradshaw noted that city employees did not receive compensation increases this fiscal year because of economic impacts of the pandemic. The 2022 budget not only proposes the 4% pay increase for employees but also one-time, tiered compensation increases that favor lower-paid employees, as well as $67,000 for market adjustments to specific jobs. The budget anticipates the city having 71.5 staff members, one more than this fiscal year.
With the economy recovering from the pandemic, the budget anticipates increased revenues in the Planning and Building Department—which has seen a dramatic rise in applications and charged fees—of $579,000. It also projects increased revenues of approximately $494,000 from local-option taxes charged in the city, with total LOT revenues netting $2.4 million.
The draft budget proposes approximately $2.9 million in spending on capital improvement projects. Projects include a redesign of Town Square, replacement of old motor vehicles and upgrades to city parks.
Spending through the projected $11.3 million General Fund—which funds the daily operations of the city—calls for allocating 22% to the Fire and Rescue Department, 17% to the Streets Department, 16% to the Police Department, 15% to the Administrative Services Department, 8% to facility maintenance, 8% to the Planning and Building Department, and lower percentages for other services.
On Monday, city department heads summarized budget needs and changes in their departments for the City Council. Several department heads said the cost of living and the cost of housing is affecting staffing and the ability to hire new, qualified employees.
Fire Chief Bill McLaughlin said he is waiting for final approval of labor negotiations with the contract employees of the Fire and Rescue Department. Increasing pay for department employees is important, he said, because other fire departments in the Wood River Valley pay considerably more. The city of Sun Valley pays its firefighters close to 30% more, McLaughlin said.
Will Fruehling, chief deputy of the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office, which contracts with the city to run the Police Department, said the housing crisis in Blaine County has affected the department’s staff. Last week, he said, an employee resigned because his rent was increased three times in the last eight months.
“He basically came in and said, ‘I can’t make it here,’” Fruehling said.
The department is requesting $66,000 to restore the full-time patrol position.
City Administrator Jade Riley said the city is looking at developing a program to provide housing stipends for staff.
Streets Department head Brian Christiansen is requesting approximately $1.9 million for fiscal year 2022. He told the council that employee retention is also an issue in his department and that he recently lost a three-year employee.
“I think getting them here is a challenge in itself,” Christiansen said.
Juerg Stauffacher, the city’s facilities maintenance supervisor, agreed that staffing and salaries are a problem, as did Pat Cooley, Water Division supervisor.
From a 2017 photo of 53 city employees, 27 no longer work for the city, Cooley said.
“And for those who chose to leave, money is the common thread, which ties into the housing crisis,” he said.
Several leaders of agencies and nonprofit organizations that provide services to the city also presented funding proposals for fiscal year 2022. They included:
• Mountain Rides Transportation Authority—$687,000.
• Visit Sun Valley—$250,000.
• Blaine County Housing Authority—$75,000.
• Sun Valley Economic Development—$10,000.
• Friends of the Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center—$4,000.
• Idaho Dark Sky Alliance—$2,200.
City Council members offered some comment on the draft budget but did not request significant alterations. However, they will have opportunity to make changes to the budget in future meetings, before it will be proposed for final approval later in the summer. A follow-up workshop meeting is scheduled for July 6. A public hearing is tentatively scheduled for July 19. A first reading of the proposed final budget is planned for Aug. 2.
Councilwoman Courtney Hamilton said she would like the city to look into funding a lobbyist for the state Legislature to advocate the interests of Ketchum and other Idaho resort towns.
“Because I think that small resort towns are getting destroyed one bill at a time every winter when they go into session,” she said.
Councilman Michael David said he wants the city to increase its funding for sidewalks and non-vehicular mobility.
Riley said the city allocated about $100,000 to the Streets Department for sidewalk maintenance for public safety in fiscal year 2021. That same sum is proposed for fiscal year 2022, he said, plus an additional $222,000 through the city’s Capital Improvement Plan to fill in gaps in city sidewalks.
Referring to a city survey of citizens’ priorities for the 2022 budget, David said the city could consider hiring a housing or mobility expert instead of filling the open Police Department position.
In the survey, housing was the No. 1 priority and sidewalks and infrastructure was No. 2.