Printed on: March 24, 2013

Learning to plan ahead

Idaho Falls needs a new fire station. Cracks in the floor of the 83-year-old downtown station mean firefighters have to park engines outside during the day and store them elsewhere at night. And as Fire Chief Dean Ellis told the Post Register's Zach Kyle, a patch job would be a waste of money.

In response to Ellis' $2.5 million estimate for a new station, members of the City Council are contemplating a couple of choices: asking voters to approve a bond or raising taxes.

That this discussion is taking place now and focusing on those options is more evidence that Idaho Falls desperately needs an infusion of new ideas.

Cracks began to appear in the fire station floor four decades ago. A 2007 study said the day of reckoning was fast approaching. Why did Idaho Falls' city leaders not begin preparing then? Imagine if they had begun looking for efficiencies and setting money aside. The discussion today might be about where to break ground instead of whose ox gets gored.

That approach has served Bonneville County well. In the 1990s, then-Commissioner Bill Shurtleff installed a mindset that emphasized long-term planning and setting money aside for big projects. That's allowed the county to expand its jail, upgrade the landfill and purchase and remodel the District 7 health building without bonding or raising taxes. Idaho Falls' council last month discussed its need for more office space, a problem that could be alleviated by getting the Fire Department out of City Hall. Wait a minute. Didn't Idaho Falls already address its office space shortage by purchasing two downtown buildings from Mayor Jared Fuhriman's former campaign treasurer for $745,000?

It turns out the former Farr Candy Co. headquarters wasn't suitable for offices -- something about a big old refrigerator getting in the way. So, it was torn down and the most expensive parking lot in Idaho Falls history was constructed.

The city has a problem. People have lost faith in its ability to manage money. We saw it when council members attempted to sell residents on a tax increase, then backed off in the face of determined opposition. We saw it in the handling of the Dale Storer billing mess. Yes, Idaho Falls' former city attorney was cleared of wrongdoing. But billing errors of more than $53,000 were made. We don't know whether the city has taken corrective measures. We don't know whether the problems extended to other contract employees.

Then there is that $2.5 million price tag. We would encourage city officials to take a drive out Lincoln Road and check out the new aluminum-sided station Bonneville Fire District No. 1 just built for $730,000.

So yes, let's talk about building a new station. But more importantly, let's make sure the residents of Idaho Falls, our elected leadership and anybody thinking about running for mayor or one of the three open council seats this year begins discussing the wisdom of long-term planning and the necessity of sacrifice.

In that spirit, allow your local newspaper to get the ball rolling.

City spokesman Brad Huerta is leaving for greener pastures. Fuhriman talked about the importance of replacing him. Mayor, don't worry about it. Put that $56,451 annual salary plus benefits as a down payment on a new station.

Somehow, we'll manage to learn about the next ribbon-cutting without the help of a news release on official city stationary.

Corey Taule