Cities do best when public processes are clear and public discussion is maximized prior to decisions. Ketchum is no exception, but it is giving both short shrift.
The city wants to build a new fire station on a lot it owns on Saddle Road near the YMCA. The City Council has decided to plop a $10.7 million bond issue on the November ballot for a fire station at that location and see what happens.
The council likes the lot because the city already owns it, and it offers easy access to state Highway 75 and Warm Springs Road.
However, the council has not discussed what the site doesn’t offer: the near political certainty that voters like it enough to pay for it.
The city has scheduled so-called open houses on various sites, but no public hearings. Such hearings could be contentious and political pressure might lead to selection of a location that is less than perfect in the eyes of the council.
The city is famous for backing off projects that residents object to, especially workforce housing developments. The city withdrew a housing proposal on a Saddle Road site when neighbors cited traffic and noise issues that they claimed would interfere with the quiet enjoyment of their homes. They threatened to sue the city.
The city really doesn’t know what residents think of its proposed fire station site, which is near the site of the failed housing proposal. It won’t really find out if serious objections exist until voters weigh in at the polls.
Bond issues require a supermajority for approval, which gives unhappy voters far more clout in determining the outcome.
A second failure of a fire station bond will leave the city where it is now, with an aging structure and no remedy in sight. It would be worth another year and some noisy public hearings to try to get the city and the public on the same page before going to a vote.