Neither Solution is Best

edited March 2015 in Opinion

I was involved in the early discussions and eventual passage of 2A. I advocated for it, thought it was a good idea. As I advocated publicly for it I often heard the comment that the “other infrastructure” phrase was too broad. I brought this comment up to Tom Yerkey who told me not to worry, there was so much street work to be done that there would be no money for anything else for at least a decade. He was wrong.

In hindsight, there were three issues with the original 2A that we did not see at the time: too much flexibility; no accountability; and it ignored the other 2% city tax restrictions.

Too much flexibility – the phrase “other infrastructure” has led to the money being sent things other than streets.

No accountability – info is now available on 2A money spent on capital, but non capital spending has never been tracked.

Other taxes – 2A is a standalone tax targeted at streets, and did not account for capital restrictions on the other sales taxes.

The great news is that something is being done. Both the city and the citizens agree that now more money should be spent on the streets. Both would resolve the issue of accountability. We have some agreement!! The bad news is that neither solves all three of the issues with 2A. It is unfortunate that the parties cannot get together on the remaining details. Citizens are forced to spend $20,000 to pick between two ways of doing things, when the third way would be best.

The citizens’ initiative solves the flexibility issues with details included in the initiative. A good thing. It does nothing about the impact to the other city taxes. Rightly or wrongly, the city has dramatically increased its operations spending since 2008. The failure to account for it in the initiative leads to disruption of the operations side of the budget. As former Mayer Chuck Rose has pointed out the city council has been silent about where this impact would be felt.

The city’s responsive referendum would solve the other 2% capital restrictions. It is more comprehensive, and yet fails to deal with the flexibility issue. The referendum does take some flexibility out, but not completely. That is by design according to city council.

The clear way forward here would be for both sides to sit together and work out something they can both live with, and save $20,000. Apparently neither side learned how to compromise. It is infuriating that there are no adults here.

Now we have to decide for ourselves among the lesser of two imperfect choices. I can understand why people would choose either. For myself, I think the city’s referendum will do less good, but less harm. I think the Citizen’s initiative would do more good, but more harm.

I am going to take the behavior of all into account come November when we pick new council members. I’ll be looking for adults.

Bill Smith,
Salida

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  • There is a special forum to debate this issue in City Council Chambers, Thursday, March 6th at 7:00 pm. Think I will go and listen.....Liz Eckler, Salida

  • Thank you, Teddy Roosevelt:

    "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. "

  • edited March 2015

    The foregoing comment was a little inspiring food for thought, be you Tom Yerkey or Jeff Auxier....

    LWV Forum

    Ms. Eckler, thank you for mentioning the LWV forum. It's tomorrow night Thursday, March 5, just to avoid any confusion, at 7 pm in city council chambers.

    Compromise?

    As to Bill Smith's suggestion of compromise, once Mr. Carlisle and Mr. Farney obtained 409 signatures, they thought it presumptuous and rude to think of doing what Congressman Jared Polis did on his statewide fracking initiative - get many people to work so hard to get signatures and then stopping the process to play personal politics.

    Further, once the Carlisle-Farney petition was turned in and the signators verified, Mssrs. Farney and Carlisle could not pull the initiative - the choice went out of their hands.

    H Street - A Budget-Busting Street Project

    Restricted revenue will be $2.7 million per 2015 budget forecasts. The H Street rebuild was budgeted for 7 blocks (3rd to 10th) for $599,000, but only 5 blocks (3rd to 8th) were built, and at a cost of $780,000.

    Budgeted at $79,000 per block, built at $145,000 per block. This was just the cost of the street, not replacement of water and sewer underneath.

    This info has only come out as a result of pressure for accountability put on the city by the Carlisle-Farney Citizen's Initiative and requests from the Mountain Mail. No budget such as those produced since 2008 would provide taxpayers the level of detail needed to ascertain this cost overrun. The city would have kept us totally in the dark.

    The planning, accountability and reporting provisions of Carlisle-Farney should resolve this "taxpayer in the dark" problem. The city's Baker-Schmidt reporting provisions have by comparison no teeth whatsoever.

    More (Aarrgghh!) Numbers and Percentages

    Based on 2015 budget numbers, Carlisle-Farney's Citizen's Initiative 2014-28 puts $1.17 million of 2008-2A sales tax funds towards roads, sidewalks and / or water and sewer infrastructure.

    The 2005-2A law (three years' extant when 2008-2A was pitched, sold and passed) puts another $1.09 million toward:

    • streets;
    • capital infrastructure like Touber ($160k per year principal and interest), roof repairs, water and sewer infrastructure, bike and walking trails, ball field improvements, etc; and,
    • bond service (none presently existing).


    2005-2A also puts about $280,000 to capital equipment such as police cars, playground equipment, audio-visual systems, computers, HVAC systems, volleyball nets for the pool, etc.

    If Carlisle-Farney passes, $2.7 million (32%) will be restricted to capital expenditures, out of $8.4 million in total General Fund revenue. This $2.7 million includes 2008-2B lodging tax revenues totaling roughly $250,000 / year plus the sums from 2008-2A and 2005-2A discussed above.

    In contrast, the city's Baker-Schmidt initiative will put about 23% or of General Fund revenues to capital, or about $1.93 million. This doesn't even meet the $1.975 million (in 2008 dollars) needed for regular street improvement and maintenance as determined by council members and staff in 2008.

    Baker Schmidt will also extinguish stop regularl funding of the Contingency Reserves to a healthy 15% level as well as the availability of about $31,300 of Economic Development (ED) funds to be used for advertising in Colorado Springs, or hiring musicians for street festivals downtown, or other such thing. Those ED funds have been going to the airport for some time now.

    Easy Remedy for City's Claimed Woes if Carlisle-Farney Passes

    The city claims that capital spending will be a bit too much if Carlisle-Farney passes. We don't agree, but assume such is true. Then consider this - the city can quite easily propose a reasonable redistribution of 2005-2A funds and also quite easily put it on the ballot for November. It would be comparatively no trouble at all for the city to do so. They might even impose some higher degree of overall accountability in making their proposal.

    Yours,
    Jeff Auxier

  • Dear Bill, Thanks for your willingness to write candidly about how the original 2A was sold, as money for streets. Thank you also for your willingness to acknowledge the city's reporting on its numbers has weaknesses. As for parties' willingness to compromise or not, the city never offered me what I considered to be a meaningful compromise. We made it plain to those involved that once we started collecting signatures we were committed to the people who signed the initiative. Once we had supporters and signatures we could not turn back. That is a matter of integrity. Hal Brown sought middle ground from within the Council. He made a proposal that offered compromise and accountability. If more reasonable heads had prevailed we would have had some accountability clauses that were meaningful. Councilman Brown's proposal would have had a reasonable chance of prevailing on the ballot against ours.
    The city's counter proposal, the Baker Schmidt version, is full of loopholes and lacks meaningful accountability. Councilmen Yerkey and Baker, and Finance Director Schmidt, were around to gut the 2008 2A with those words about other infrastructure. The current Council proposal puts the flexibility on steroids and has no accountability clauses to give citizens assurance that they will know how the money is being spent. I believe a thorough analysis of the numbers will prove that some years they do not meet the capital requirements for the 2005 2% or the 2008 1%. Their best arguments and summaries vary from one report to the next. I have made some requests for copies of actual invoices that would allow for a good analysis of their numbers. The quotes for the costs of that information are over my budget. A detailed analysis of the city's spending on streets and capital of other kinds would be cost prohibitive for a citizen to access. This is a shame. I think a good budgeting process by project would solve this problem. I believe the lack of accountability in the city's current counter proposal will leave the citizens disappointed about the progress on the streets again. This is a matter of trust, "Fool me once; shame on you. Fool me twice; shame on me." It would be a serious mistake to give this administration the flexibility they crave. Fond regards, Billy C

  • Bill, Lets make the assumption that one's concern is the future of Salida. I am curious what, if any, your ballot initiative regarding the City sales tax would look like? Chuck

  • It is a great question Chuck. I think that if I wrote a ballot initiative it would include all the city sales taxes, have a designated amount for capital, have a designated amount for streets and associated infrastructure. It would require the city to comply with its own ordinances. It would have a robust reporting mechanism. I agree with the point that given the current varying restrictions it can be difficult to figure out how much of what is spent on each budget item. Simplifying that would be a great thing.

    My general philosophy is to elect the people you want to run things and then let them run it. I feel that to be entitled to that kind of deference, a certain level of transparency and restraint is implied. Since we are concerning ourselves with the future, my bigger concern than this 2A kerfluffle is the city's tendency to act more like a land developer than a municipality. I note that there are a number of backroom land deals being discussed right now without general knowledge. Looking forward, if the city spends as much time, energy and money figuring out how to fix streets and sidewalks as it does about finding a way get the Department of Parks and Wildlife to move to the NRCDC we will all be better off.

    Bill

  • Haven't seen much reaction to the 2A vote yet-- have been out of town. Both sides on this issue worked hard to convince Salida--- still, not a huge electoral turnout. That leads me to believe people generally don't think it will matter much either way, and/or possibly that (as Bill points to above) there is too much happening to stay on top of in city government. I believe that about all a governmental body should do is K.I.S.S.. There is no way to hold it accountable enough to do anything else.

    I really appreciate people who are paying attention and remind us when things are inappropriate. I think we all owe them thanks. Ex. I know Joyce Reno is competent and ethical, but Mark Arnold pointed out a flaw in the ballot system a few yrs ago THANKS MARK. Jeff Auxier, the citizens for accountability gang have pointed out some problems THANK YOU for all the effort. Smart and Talented Salidans Abound in the High Ground. SaTSAHG

    I am a pretty radical liberal, also not a fan of big govt. I appreciate smart people working to make organizations better and more accountable to the citizenry. I suggest anyone who works for govt should try to say thank you when criticized, thank you when a problem is discovered--- whether you're a police officer, teacher or on city council. When you take a govt position, that is +/-what you sign up for--- otherwise, you create a business and do it your way and no one will bother you(except the govt) Good luck. Governments and corporations get too accustomed to taking power for granted, being unappreciative--- throughout history this has been true. Thankfully there are people who challenge those in power--- in the classroom, council room, street, or boardroom. I don't have to agree with them about much-- but I know they are an essential part of the conversation that is democracy and free society.

    THE BIGGER STORY here is the cultural rift happening apparently caused by affluent, urban people moving to the area. Those in power are now almost completely urban in background. Urban/suburban culture is in high conflict with the working class, rural culture dominant in Salida from the beginning. Those families who have been here a long time, those who grew up in Salida, resist urban/corporate/white collar culture and resent some of the changes sought by its crowd over the last ten yrs or so. ( Bike lanes on hwy 50. OMG WTF) I generally do too-- have spent most my life in rural culture. Multicultural sensitivity has been lacking, and it will probably get worse. A huge can of worms---sociologists/psychologists?)
    --thanks for the forum

    mike pollock

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