Saturday, November 9, 2002
Q. With the defeat of the 5 mill property tax for fire and ambulance services, how likely is it that the city will seek another property tax in the future?
A. Very likely. However, feedback that we have already received suggests that we must present this tax as a part of a long-term program. This is difficult to do since we change the configuration of City Council every two years. I believe taxpayers are saying long and strong, no new taxes. The challenge for us is to have those same taxpayers realize what services will be cut if we do not get a more stabilized funding for our city budget. The real shame about the defeat of 2A is that it was going to benefit two essential services while helping to meet the city's desperate capital needs. We still need to address both issues, but we'll probably have to address them separately. We must find a way to fulfill our commitment to providing a modern, full-time fire/EMS service. At the same time, we must address the city's dwindling and uncertain revenue stream. Because Colorado law limits the revenue options available to us, we know that a property tax in some form has to be a part of the discussion and reduction of sales tax may need to be a part of this program.
Q. What lessons did you take from this election and how can those lessons be applied to future ballot initiatives?
A. Sacred Cows are now hamburger! We did not realize how much our voters have changed in attitude since the last election. What applied to how to communicate to our voters two years ago has also changed. Everything now is in sound bites. There is little trust in government, business, community leaders. If anyone proposes anything, de facto, it needs to be questioned. If it is not easily understood, it will fail. The role of elected leaders now more than ever needs to be consensus making. There seems to be only one way to get to many of the voters, and that is to make it simple. The challenge for our complex problems is how do we simplify these issues without causing public distrust? We need to become marketers for our beliefs. I think we did not get out to the public information soon enough and we did not provide settings for constructive pro and con dialogue soon enough.
We must find a way to get the voters to participate in the educational process rather than being turned off by the campaign process. A lot of mixed signals were sent in this election. Our community surveys indicated one thing, our voters indicated another in some of our ballot questions. Those surveys were months ago a lot has changed in our lives. We need to get more flexible in keeping up with the changing attitudes of our public. What has and is happening in our national economy and environment are factors we underestimated. We learned that a vast majority of our voters are time poor and are not taking the time and diligence to pay attention and when in doubt they vote no.
We need to educate ourselves on how to properly respond to the potent impacts of negative and emotional campaigning. The face of politics has changed. Education to the public is now more about marketing if it doesn't fit on a bumper sticker, it will fail.
Q. After the failure of Referendum 2C, the water district consolidation, do you plan to pursue more negotiations with the Mount Werner Water District to try consolidation again? Do you think Mount Werner will be responsive to more negotiations?
A. Yes. We believe it is in the best interest of all of our community to consolidate to one water district. The issues that continue to haunt us is in the "how." It takes cooperation and compromise from both sides. I sincerely hope Mount Werner Water District board members will get beyond the hurtful attacks of the negative campaigning and stick with us at looking at the bigger picture. Public distrust is at an all-time high how do we simplify a very complex issue? The City Council is not planning to give up and we hope to bring some new ideas to Mount Werner very soon. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.
Q. If you could go back and do anything differently about campaigning or preparing for the elections, what would it be?
A. At this juncture the biggest thing I believe we would do differently is to start educating the public EARLIER. We would actively address the challenges to the ballot questions and residents' concerns EARLIER in the election process. We would assume less about the public's understanding of the issues. We have seen an interesting trend of more early and absentee voting. Many people in our community voted before there was a lot of information out in the media or via debates. Before the next election ballot issues, we will spend more time getting an updated pulse of our community and more education ourselves of how to engage today's voters. Preparation is the key. It is not just about preparing a good, sound approach, it is also preparation of how to market difficult complex issues in today's campaign process. We need to develop effective approaches to respond to negative campaigning by spending more time on consensus building. We need more forums for positive pro and con debates. Reaching our voting public happens one person at a time. In a society of so much information overload, I believe its about relationships. We must find a way to have more positive active dialogue with one another.
Q. Last week, the City Council held off on approving a resolution supporting the Two Plus Housing Committee's recommendations on affordable housing. The sticking point was the General Improvement District tax in the West of Steamboat Area Plan. What's your feeling about the tax and would you be willing to eliminate it?
A. The issue of "who pays and who benefits" was central to the negotiations over the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan. Both the city and county insisted new, urban-density growth in the west of Steamboat should not be a drain on existing resources. The consultant, Winston Associates, calculated the city would need to recoup about $720 per year from each unit to pay for extending city services to that area. This deficit is the result of the city having no property tax to assess against the new housing units to pay for providing services. The Two Plus Housing Committee wants that $720 a year eliminated, but it has not suggested any replacement funding. Obviously, we will need to take this issue back to the Area Plan Coordinating Committee for discussion before we would be willing to eliminate it.