As a former Ketchum firefighter/paramedic, two-term Ketchum City Council president and a two-term Ketchum mayor who spent two and a half years looking at every piece of property in Ketchum to either rent, buy or build a new city hall, police and fire station, I can tell you that bonding for a stand-alone fire station on the “park and ride” lot is a terrible idea and I urge you to vote “no” on this bond.
First, we all understand that the current city hall is well beyond its useful life and the living conditions at the fire station are terrible. Unfortunately, segmenting this project will cost the taxpayers more money in terms of capital and operations. It’s not just the $11.5 million cost of the bond—factor in the millions of taxpayer dollars that have already and will be spent on the purchase and subsequent remodel of the Praggastis building. It should be intuitive to most of us who have been in that building that it will need extensive renovation and that the site is too small to fit both the city hall and police station. Understanding the very limited availability of land and the significant cost of development, why in the world did city officials not bring a proposal to build a public safety building that included the police?
It is unjust that the city asks the community to pay the entire cost of this project, knowing full well its own financial house is not in order. Do they think we have forgotten the city lost the 60-year-old Ketchum Rural Fire contract due to mismanagement, which cost $325,000 annually? Does the city think we have forgotten the $250,000-$400,000 a year in option taxes that go uncollected due to a lack of enforcement? What about how problematic this year’s budget process went? Why in one of the best economies is the city struggling financially?
What also aggravates me is the complete lack of respect the city has shown towards the YMCA. The YMCA is an honorable nonprofit institution that is run by honorable people who have delivered a higher quality of life to our entire county community. The board has made several good-faith attempts advocating for the community in which it serves to hold the city accountable for promises made on two major issues: a minimum of guaranteed parking places and the ability to expand in accordance with our community needs. It is clear to me after reading the mayor’s comments in last week’s paper that the city intends to be hostile towards the YMCA, which would compromise the Y’s ability to deliver on its mission and jeopardize its ability to raise money on our behalf.
After failing to consolidate Ketchum’s police and fire with Sun Valley, most of us subject-matter experts, including the city of Ketchum, agreed that it was in the best interest of the north valley community to consolidate Ketchum Fire, Sun Valley Fire and what was the Ketchum Rural Fire departments. If Ketchum was sincere in the consolidation concept, wouldn’t it be prudent to consolidate first, then collaborate with our partners as to what Ketchum’s contribution should be? What if after we consolidate it is determined that the “park and ride” lot is not strategically the best place for a fire station? Said another way, what if it is determined that our contribution to consolidation is much less than the $11.5 million being asked of us right now?
It wasn’t but a few years ago that the same architects of this bond proposal gave us the disastrous city hall bond proposal that a bond attorney told me was the largest bond failure in the history of the state of Idaho! Yes, we absolutely need a new city hall and police and fire stations, but not solely on the backs of the taxpayer. I ask that Ketchum get its fiscal house in order, bring us a plan that includes significant Urban Renewal Agency participation with a thoughtful master plan before asking for any taxpayer dollars.
What if at the end of the day it is determined that the best option for the city is to stay right where it is, leaving the “park and ride” lot for other community benefits? Yes, I understand what that would require, but have you seen how well the Ketchum library was renovated? We also own the property across the street that could prove to be part of any future solution. My point is that I believe we have options that have not been explored for far less money, and before we go spending $11.5 million, I think we better be sure.
I understand that not everyone will agree with me and that the city will come back with an argument defending its position, but I have faith in the intellect of our community that your intuition, like mine, is telling us that we can do better. Please join me and others in voting “no” on the fire station bond.
Randy Hall is a former mayor of Ketchum and a former City Council president.