As a result of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), Ketchum will receive approximately $610,000 in one-time funds to be used in our community to combat the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Strategic Initiatives Fund, or SIF, inappropriately referred to as a “slush fund” in last week’s letter to the editor titled “Stop Ketchum mayor’s slush fund,” is Ketchum City Council’s allocation of the ARPA funds—plus an additional $200,000 in one-time money from the General Fund—toward housing efforts in our community.

Many other municipalities are using these same COVID funds toward housing issues exacerbated by the pandemic. The ARPA funds represent an unexpected opportunity to assist us in working toward alleviating our lack of housing that is so important to the health of our community. In any city budget it is normal and customary to have a placeholder for certain activities. It does not guarantee the money will be spent and does not obfuscate our municipal and legal requirement to go through the public process and council approval before the release of any funds. To label a placeholder as a “slush fund” is not only misleading, but also inaccurate and implies some opaque process has taken place. In fact, quite the opposite has occurred with the creation of the SIF. The SIF represents a substantive effort towards addressing our housing crisis and adds visibility to the expected allocation of the ARPA funds.

We are currently in the process of hiring housing experts who, with strong community involvement, will help us build out a long-term housing strategy to give us, as a city, better insight into the most effective ways to combat the housing crisis in our community. While we would prefer to be able to explicitly allocate the funds toward specific projects, we feel that would be premature without a housing plan in place.

There is no doubt that the pandemic has created challenges as well as some opportunities for our town. As more people move to town and help bolster our economy, there is additional strain on our infrastructure, public safety, and other service demands. Additionally, the impact on our housing situation and the affordability of living here has made it impossible for some local workers to still call Ketchum their home and difficult for many businesses to keep their doors open. This budget seeks to address these immediate needs, as well as the long-term needs of our community.

Other notable budget items include $2.8 million in in-lieu housing funds (in addition to the SIF) appropriated toward pursuing additional housing opportunities; increased funding for Mountain Rides, providing a 43% share of the total municipality funding within the valley; over $2 million in improvements to our streets and facilities, including new sidewalks, street improvements, park upgrades, and conceptual design for improvements to the intersections at Lewis and 10th streets; improved emergency services with an added police officer and significant upgrades to our fire service, including a new fire station, new wildland fire engine, and a budget increase of 17%; and $80,000 to help fund a regional sustainability director as well as $50,000 toward sustainability initiatives.

We have heard loud and clear that housing is our community’s number one priority, and we have built that priority into the budget. Our focus is on increasing services to our residents and visitors as we move through our housing issues, improvements on transportation and emergency services, and other city projects.

We are very proud of the budget decisions we have put forth to the community for the next fiscal year but always welcome more input during the very important budgetary process that sets our community’s path for the next year. The next public budget hearing will be held at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Sep. 7, at City Hall. Please join us so that we can work together to help solve our housing crisis and build a budget that reflects our community’s values.

Neil Bradshaw is mayor of Ketchum. Courtney Hamilton is president of the Ketchum City Council.

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