Ketchum Mayor Neil Bradshaw’s plan to eliminate two full-time Fire Department positions—saving the city a projected $200,000—did not sit well with many at City Hall on Monday night.
A tense back-and-forth centered around Bradshaw’s plan to bring down Fire Department staff from 11 to nine via attrition, electing to not replace two employees following retirement or resignation. That would be key in keeping the city’s $24.9 million budget afloat and closing Ketchum’s projected $771,000 general-fund gap.
“We’re not telling anyone that they will lose their job,” Bradshaw said. “That’s a commitment from me.”
After deliberation, the council presented a newly updated budget that brought much-anticipated relief to the otherwise heated meeting.
“The message we’ve received loud and clear is that there is a need for the [Fire Department] positions,” Councilman Jim Slanetz said.
While Finance Director Grant Gager worked with the council to reconfigure the budget, firefighters milled about outside. Ten minutes later, Bradshaw announced the amendments: $33,000 would be taken from city reserves, the $100,000 sidewalk budget would be eliminated and the first-responder shift assist budget of $35,000 would be nixed to make room for the two fire personnel.
The Aug. 19 meeting marked the third hearing of the fiscal 2020 budget, meaning it could have been approved to take effect on Oct. 1. Due to the level of controversy, however, a special meeting was scheduled for Sept. 10 to further discuss the budget.
The Fire Department attrition plan was by far the most controversial of the night, generating bickering and heartfelt speeches.
Earlier in the evening, about a dozen Ketchum residents lined up to testify on behalf of the Fire Department, with several speaking up to or exceeding their time limit. One was Jamie Dutcher, who said many aspects of Ketchum, like its growing elderly population and pervasiveness of riskier outdoor sports, require a robust fire department.
“It would just be a travesty if we started losing structure and lives because we didn’t have our wonderful men and women in place to do their jobs that we so depend on,” Dutcher said.
Nick Miller, who made local headlines in June for surviving a near-drowning in the Big Wood River, approached the microphone on crutches with his wife, Sylvia, at his side.
“If the Fire Department were short two staffers, I wouldn’t be here today,” he said, describing how a pair of firefighters pulled him from the river and sustained him for half an hour before EMTs arrived.
Joyce Friedman said she also found herself in a harrowing situation when her late husband, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease, took a hard fall in their Ketchum condo.
“Without the help of these dedicated professionals, I have no idea what I would’ve done,” she said.
Earlier, the council announced that under the fiscal 2020 budget proposal, money would need to be diverted from several local transportation, marketing and public-safety agencies and organizations to repair the $10.6 million general fund, which recently suffered a $327,850 setback with the loss of the Ketchum Rural Fire Protection District contract.
In addition to the Fire Department, Ketchum staple organizations facing cuts this fall include Mountain Rides Transportation Authority and Visit Sun Valley.
“What I’ve tried to do here in this proposal is to balance all issues, recognizing that no one is happy walking away from this,” Bradshaw said.
As it stands, Mountain Rides faces a $65,000 cut and Visit Sun Valley will lose $40,000. Prior to Monday, the Mountain Rides board said the slash in funding meant the popular night-owl Blue Route would need to be terminated.
To keep the route, Bradshaw recommended defunding two summer celebrations, the Wagon Days concert and Dock Dogs showcase, to add $24,700 for Mountain Rides.
Councilwoman Amanda Breen voiced opposition to the Visit Sun Valley cuts, citing the impact on Ketchum’s integral tourism industry.
“To do this would be cutting the legs off of an organization that helps create revenue for us,” she said.
In order to free up marketing funds, Breen recommended drilling into Ketchum’s reserve funds, or the section of the budget backed by the city’s local-option tax, a move that Bradshaw has previously deemed irresponsible.