Ketchum is scrambling to fill a projected $771,000 spending gap in its $10.6 million general fund budget. Officials blame it on matters outside city control.

It’s more than that.

Staff levels are a spending driver that officials rarely or never discuss in public.

The city quietly increased its administrative staff from six full-time positions in fiscal 2015 to nine positions in fiscal 2019, a 50 percent increase. Since fiscal 2016, annual spending on those positions increased by $311,000, or 36 percent.

Where the city once had a single administrator, it now has an assistant administrator, finance director, senior accountant, tax specialist, special events manager and management/communications analyst.

Running a city requires competent administrators, but taxpayers deserve to know what’s driving higher staff levels and compensation. They also deserve to know why the city’s annual legal fees, now $187,000, increased 52 percent, or $64,500, since fiscal 2015, and more than doubled since fiscal 2014.

The city needs to explain why the proposed fiscal 2020 budget cuts just two of 3.5 full-time employees in the Ketchum Fire Department, which had been funded by a defunct $327,000 annual contract with the Ketchum Rural Fire District. The city plans to cover $125,000 of the loss by cutting other departments.

The new budget cuts marketing by $44,000 even though the area faces enormous competition for winter visitors every year. Ironically, the budget calls for spending $35,000 for “public outreach” for open houses on “civic ideas.”

The Mountain Rides bus system will see a $65,000 cut even though the city now allows residential buildings to be built with zero parking.

The city’s budget should not only balance, it should make sense. This one doesn’t.

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