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Twin Falls looks for more cuts

Twin Falls looks for more cuts

August 3, 2009
August 3, 2009

Twin Falls City Councilman Will Kezele has joined his fellow council members in endorsing a nearly 3 percent cut in this year's budget. But he says the council needs to go a bit farther and take off another 4-5 percent.

As he sees it, the additional cuts are the least the city can do in this economic climate. As with many of the people Kezele represents, money is tight in his household due to losses in his consulting business. He says it is time for the council to comb through the budget and make even more serious efforts to sort the "needs" from the "wants."

The city already is taking positive steps, Kezele said. According to records, council members are looking at a nearly $48.7 million budget for Fiscal 2009-2010 - a reduction of $1.4 million or 2.84 percent from the previous year. Kezele says there is room for more reductions.

"Those who are at all levels of government - whether it's the federal level, the state legislature or the city council - should take the same kind of approach the citizens take," he said. "People in Congress can't cut to save their lives; we've got to learn how to cut.

"Twin Falls is historically conservative and I have been impressed with the restraint shown over the years," he said. "But it doesn't mean we can't sacrifice more to keep money in the hands of citizens. The conversation needs to be had."

Kezele has identified several areas for possible cutting:

  • The Parks and Recreation Department is seeking $83,000 for a new mower to replace an old mower that is showing some cracks. Says Kezele: "I don't think we can afford an $83,000 mower, when we can take it to a welder and have it fixed for $50."The department proposes spending $125,000 to upgrade the restrooms at the Oregon Trail youth baseball park. Says Kezele: "They say the bathrooms are getting a little worn down. The bathrooms are not top-notch, but they are clean. I've spent many years at that diamond, along with my family, and we have used those facilities with no problem. It's nothing urgent. We can wait a year or two."
  • $35,000 to install projector screens at city council desks. Says Kezele: "I don't need a screen in front of me. If I want to see what's on the projector, all I have to do is turn and look at what's on the wall like everybody else."
  • The Police Department is asking for two police cars, valued at $57,000 (without equipment), a car for a detective and another car for a narcotics agent. Says Kezele: "I'd like to buy a new car for myself, but I can't. A lot of people are putting off buying a car for a year or two and the city can do the same. I've been told that if we don't purchase new cars this year, then we'll have to purchase four cars the next year. I don't go along with that logic. We can get by with what we have for a year, or maybe two. I am not aware of cars breaking down in the course of police doing their jobs. If it is not critically necessary, we should show restraint."
  • The Parks Department proposing a basketball hoop, $5,500. Says Kezele: "I would like to know what that's going to buy?" The department has proposed $30,000 for playground equipment in a park that doesn't exist and a subdivision that has only four houses. Says Kezele: "When there are people in the area who we'll use the park, then we can talk about it."

Kezele says the city has made cuts in training and development, overtime and travel, but can do more. "It's a matter of picking here and picking there. We have to ask ourselves, is the budget item critically necessary? If it is not, and we can live without it for a year, cutting from the budget is absolutely the right thing to do."

Kezele, who has been on the city council for just over a year, says he has the utmost respect for Mayor Lance Clow and his fellow council members. Generally, he says, the city offers good services and is moving in the right direction. Critics to Kezele's call for additional cuts have said that further reductions would interfere with future planning efforts.

"I am not calling for budget cuts that would interfere with infrastructure or impede the growth of the community," he said.

City leaders are well aware of the economic conditions. The city's preliminary budget report points out that growth in Twin Falls, measured by new connections to the city's water system, has slowed to less than 1 percent. Housing starts through May are at a 12-year low.

Although the report says there are encouraging signs on the economic front with commercial projects at Wal-Mart and other developments nearing completion, Twin Falls has seen increases in the unemployment. The unemployment rate for May was at 5.75 percent in May - with Kezele figuring into those statistics.

His call for cutting city budgets, he said, "is not an agenda - it's what every family is doing. Government needs to do the same."

Chuck Malloy is a special projects writer with the Idaho Freedom Foundation.

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