For 20 years, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas was a Washington, D.C. private detective specializing in homicide, political corruption and terrorism. Since 1998, Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

For 20 years, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas was a Washington, D.C. private detective specializing in homicide, political corruption and terrorism. Since 1998, Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Rob Douglas: Something's got to give

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Rob Douglas

Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Douglas here.

— This week, the rejuvenated Steamboat Springs City Council heard the most refreshing words spoken in Centennial Hall since voters expressed their displeasure with the profligate spending habits of the last council by electing five new faces in November 2007.

In fact, on Tuesday evening the phrase "something's got to give" echoed through the Citizens Meeting Room, not once but twice.

Those sobering words were occasioned by the council's first glimpse of just how bare the city's financial cupboard is when illuminated by the harsh light of a stagnant economy. The lagging national economy now is impacting a city hobbled by previous councils that threw dollars at wish-list projects - instead of prudently building reserves - as though Rabbit Ears Pass would inoculate us from any economic downturn.

Specifically, Tuesday saw the first public review of the Preliminary 2009 Revenue Projections and Funding Requests Report. The report anticipates 2009 revenue to decline by 4 percent with potential increased losses in 2010.

The knee-jerk reaction by many to learning of a projected decline of 4 percent will be the same as mine: "No big deal. A cut here and a cut there, and we're home free."

Not so fast, kemo sabe.

Hold your horses a few more moments and you'll understand why - when the council asked city finance staff how to bridge the gap between decreased revenue and increased spending requests - city Finance Director Lisa Rolan and Deputy City Manager Wendy DuBord proclaimed "something's got to give."

With revenue projected to decrease 4 percent next year, city departments - as instructed by the Finance Department - requested 3 percent operating increases. Reasonable from a preliminary budgeting perspective and manageable with well-placed cuts and line item budget transfers.

However, non-city departments - community groups seeking your tax dollars to fund their organizations - requested an aggregate 31 percent increase.

Yes, you read that right. Community groups that are not directly a part of core city-run operations are seeking 31 percent more for 2009 than they received in 2008. The requested increase follows several previous years of dramatic increases.

Since 2003, community support has received the following percentage changes: 2003 (plus 3 percent), 2004 (plus 16.2 percent), 2005 (minus 4.4 percent), 2006 (plus 13.3 percent), 2007 (plus 12 percent) and 2008 (plus 1.3 percent).

Quite simply, the city is on a path where declining revenue is about to collide head-on with a growing population's need for essential city services, compounded by outsized community support requests. And, as though that were not enough, the city's reserves are far below where they should be, and essential capital projects including road, water and other core infrastructure maintenance are long overdue for attention vital to preserving a safe city.

Given the current financial reality, there are two courses of action the council can take.

The first is to follow in the footsteps of previous councils by patching together a budget for next year that further deflates reserve funds and allows continuing infrastructure deterioration while spending funds on utopian projects and community groups - long addicted to public funds - instead of pushing them toward self-reliance and private funding.

That path entails gambling with the financial health of the city by betting the local economy will rebound overnight. Politically, it is the easy path as it will satisfy the special interest groups parading before the council with their hands out.

The second course of action takes political courage. It requires throwing out the failed budget practices of previous councils and a return to what government was meant to be - a provider of services and infrastructure that individuals and the private sector can't provide, coupled with aid for the truly needy. This path would immediately free funds to build appropriate reserves for future economic downturns.

The financial detritus of past councils now lies at the feet of the current council. The council must choose whether to continue the policies of the past or make their mark by returning city government to providing services only government can provide while allowing the free market to operate.

There is reason to believe there are some on this council who seek to rein in government spending, but the reality is that on Tuesday evenings they are far more likely to hear from those seeking public funds than those seeking limited government.

The squeaky wheel is the one most likely to get greased.

That's how we got where we are today.

Rob Douglas can be reached at Douglas@privacytoday.com

Comments

colowoodsman 6 years, 2 months ago

Wow! The new improved 'RqDq' now comes with '20/20 Hindsight'. What's next-an AI chip?

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grannyrett 6 years, 2 months ago

StbtWatchmen--"money is the root of evil" NOT! Money isn't evil. The all consuming love of money is evil.

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grannyrett 6 years, 2 months ago

aworker4progress--What? I don't care if it is in the bible or not. I was not referencing the bible. The love of money over everything else is evil. Nothing good comes from that.

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jhr2000 6 years, 2 months ago

It's clear that the City has to reassess its finances given the fact that the national economic downturn will affect every community eventually. Perhaps this will signal to some community groups that overlap in efforts to combine.

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Nitro 6 years, 2 months ago

Community support has a long history with many groups in Steamboat Springs and quite frankly is the only reason they continue to exist. Many, if not most of these organizations, express "entitlement" to City funds year after year. Why should the City have to decide between providing the appropriate level of essential services or doling out funds to groups who have long learned how NOT to support themselves. In many cases, there appears to be duplication of efforts without any evident results of whatever it is they are supposed to be doing! It's time for Council to "just say no" and stop enabling these groups.

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id04sp 6 years, 2 months ago

It was common knowledge back in the 60s that if you had a good local social welfare program, people would move to your town to take advantage of it.

"If you give it away, they will come and get it."

Steamboat does a LOT to attract people. Unfortunately, too many who have money come here, spend it and go home. Too many who do not have money come here, decide to stay, and demand services from the community.

When a run-down shack in old-town sells for $600k, geez, folks, it's time to have a city property tax. That's pretty simple. If the law allows it, there could be a "homestead exemption" for people who actually live in the property year-round, have certain income limitations, or are over a certain age. These things are done elsewhere and have been for decades, if not centuries.

a 1-1/2% city property tax on top of what's assessed by the county would probably do the trick. People can go elsewhere to shop and avoid the sales tax, but it's kinda hard to avoid a tax on the place where you live unless you move away.

Steamboat is not a tourist town anymore. It's a second-home community which happens to sit near a ski mountain. Big difference.

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another_local 6 years, 2 months ago

Id, there you go again advocating a property tax that you would not have to pay. It is pretty easy to support taxes someone else will have to pay isn't it?

For every dollar a city property tax would collect 20 cents would come from second home owners. It would be nice for people that don't live in town though, I'll give you that... but you already knew that right?

Sales taxes are just fine as a funding source. A 4% variation on income is something that should not present a management problem to deal with.

The problem here is spending.

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gravity 6 years, 2 months ago

---while spending funds on utopian projects and community groups-- What are these groups and projects being referred to? A library, a community center, a golf course, a tennis center, a teen center, remodeled schools, bus service, consultation on; growth needs assessments, traffic flows, and development... I'm sure there are more, what should we say no to?

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factsfirst 6 years, 2 months ago

Might we also find ourselves, the Citizens of Steamboat, in the same category as those Citizen Groups that are "long addicted to public funds?" Are we long addicted to tourist's funds, hobbling along on sales tax revenue when we should be moving "toward self-reliance and private funding"? A property tax is inevitable and is the mature thing to do. The community cries out against Sales Tax generating groups such as Triple Crown and cries out against developments at the base area seeking to provide a foundation for a strong economic engine. We continue to slap the hand that feeds us yet expect it to keep feeding us. It's time we learn, just as Rob suggests the Community Groups should do, to be self-reliant.

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id04sp 6 years, 2 months ago

Hey, Local,

I already pay taxes for a library I don't use, Horizons services I don't use, schools that I don't use, and really, just about everything else Steamboat spends tax money on. I don't use the playing fields, or the tennis center, and avoid coming into town whenever I can. I'd rather buy groceries in Hayden and Craig than deal with $#1++y Markup, and Safeway is a last resort.

So why should I be paying for them so that the people who live in the city, right there on TOP of all that stuff, can use them?

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justathought 6 years, 2 months ago

"return to what government was meant to be - a provider of services and infrastructure that individuals and the private sector can't provide", I CAN ONLY WISH! This statement should include ALL government, not just stmbt council. Let the "utopian projects and community groups" supporters get off their duffs and raise their own funds. If a project is supported by the people, the people will donate, otherwise, the city is forcing the people to donate to whatever pet project the council feels is deserving, whether the individual taxpayer believes in it or not. Yes, the government needs to get out of the "I know what's best for you" business and let the people decide what they want to support.

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another_local 6 years, 2 months ago

Id, Since you don't shop here, why do you care about the sales tax? You just want to advocate a property tax that you would not have to pay.

In the end we all use the schools. Your parents generation paid for your education. We pay for our children's generation and they pay for their children's. We all benefit from an educated population. That is simply the way it works.

Funny that Horizons, Libarary, Schools and open spaces are all paid for with property tax though. All were also passed on ballot issues where the people paying had the opportunity to vote.

Facts first, Hobbling along on sales tax? What do you base that on? Our community has a tax base that 99% of towns our size would be glad to trade for. Sales tax revenues have increased quite a bit faster than inflation. In the last 10 years, sales tax revenue to the city is up by 8 million which is a ~70% increase. Our problem is spending.

Inevitable? Mature? A property tax under the amendments that govern it here in Colorado would simply burden local employers and drive small business away. It is not the owners of commercial property that pay the tax, it is the small business that rents the building that pays. The tax on the property is 4X the rate on a home. Why should the owner of a store or restaurant that earns the same amount as a plumber or an electrician pay $10,000 - $15,000 more in taxes than that plumber does? There is nothing wrong with a sales tax model for our city.

Despite the misinformation that is out there, sales tax revenues are consistent, predictable and have grown reliably for years. Our sales tax rates are not unusual or high compared with most places. A potential single digit decline should not be causing panic. Businesses have to deal with that kind of change on a regular basis.

There is also a mistaken belief out there that property tax is somehow more reliable than sales tax. Do you suppose that markets where property values fall that owners do not press for lower assessed values, that propterty tax revenue does not fall with the value?

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ColoradoNative 6 years, 2 months ago

"a provider of services and infrastructure that individuals and the private sector can't provide, coupled with aid for the truly needy."

So that is why our City is competing with private developers and owners of motels with the Ironhorse "deal"?

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addlip2U 6 years, 2 months ago

What is wrong to live within your means? We all have to.

The City, just like any one of us must set a budget and not spent what they do not have. For years, they have been going on spending rampage as if the "cash will keep on flowing". Wake up! This is reality, a reality that some of us have lived with all of our lives.

Don't spend what you don't have and save some for rainy days.

It is about time reality hit!...and something's got to give.

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Ed Miklus 6 years, 2 months ago

Ah yes, our pigaticians ( oh, oh sorry, I meant politicians) as usual are showing their habituation to the public trough. Can't get your nose out of there can you. Profligate, great word Rob. If you do any research on similar Colorado communities you will see just how profligate our council is. Time to get real about spending our tax dollars and that wonderfully regressive anti-business sales tax that they love to spend up to.

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Nitro 6 years, 2 months ago

It's really too bad that Council might even be considering firing Mr. Lanning. Now is the time they need him most. My research indicates that Mr. Lanning has strong experience in budget management in tough economic times. Think hard Council.

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steamboatsconscience 6 years, 2 months ago

what about the new City Hall /Cop Station they want to build for themselves for $18 mill or so? that still on the table? nitro Every picture I've seen of Lanning in the paper has him looking like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. that alone scares me wouldnt want to be in the room if he gets fired.

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JLM 6 years, 2 months ago

What's the big freakin' deal --- cut costs, cut them now and cut them without all of the freakin' emotional hoopla. Cutting 4% out of a budget like that of SBS is easy.

The freakin' private sector and single moms know how to do this kind of thing all the freakin' time.

Get with it or get someone who can do the job. This ain't freakin' brain surgery.

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Terry Noble 6 years, 2 months ago

The name of the game is get the money anyway you can. If that means stealing then that's ok as long as you don't get caught. If that means borrowing money on money that is owed to you that's ok as long as you get the money. If you don't collect the money that's not your problem it's the problem of the person who loaned you the money. That person only has to go bankrupt then the slate is wiped clean. The government will give you the money to make sure you survive and on and on and on. This has been happening for years and years and years. Ever stop to wonder why the government quit issuing silver certificates and changed to federal reserve notes? It's because the balloon was about to bust and they couldn't allow that. Ever stop to wonder why people could spend thousands and thousands of dollars on a credit card that they never had any intention of paying. Most were never prosecuted or ever served a day of time for their crimes. Ever wonder why anyone in their right mind would want the job of president for the salary a president makes? It's because of corruption. To relieve some of the pressure of a balloon that is about to burst buys you time but does it stop the pressure from building? No. This nation has been built on a pyramid scam (which is illegal for every citizen but not for the US government). How do you stop a pyramid scam? You end it and every poor sap who fell for it eats the loss. Are you aware that if all the "underground" money in this country suddenly surfaced there wouldn't be a national debt. Hello people the scam has to end sometime. This nation was built on corruption and the scam WILL come to an end. And that time is coming sooner than you think and there is NOTHING that can stop it! Wake up!

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StbtWatchmen 6 years, 2 months ago

Steamboatdog, Maybe some of what you say is true but, not all true! Money is the root of evil and that evil rears its ugly head everywhere on the planet! Some forms of corruption are accepted as "ok" in order to achieve goals of the commonwealth in the name of goodness! Still, it's not right but, it happens, like it or not! I try to intervene when possible, by vote or petition! Enjoy the Rainbow Weekend cluster jam! I'm outta here!

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another_local 6 years, 2 months ago

aworker, I don't think Rob tries to present his columns as anything other than opinion. The fact that they appear in a newspaper does not make them news. They are, and have always been presented as commentary, i.e. opninion.

There are a number of commentary pieces that appear weekly in this paper an in many others. Rob's is one of them.

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aworker4progress 6 years, 2 months ago

Rob Douglas has once again proven to be yet another hack trying to pass his own viewpoints as journalism rather than opinion. Then again were he to work for something that even remotely resembled a newspaper, instead it seems that the paper must be some sort of mathematical equation as it: seems to ADD trouble, SUBTRACT pleasure. DIVIDE attention and multiplies ignorance. (man I wish I had made that thought up, if I knew who did I would reference him/her.)

Oh and grannyrett- It is not money but rather the LOVE of money..."For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (King James Version)....As has been shown many times and as we all know the same book says many things that when taken literally have lead to many atrocities and abominations all in the name of God...as history has proven and shown too many times.

It seems to me that economic realities caused by those elected to office, at any level of government, remain hidden to the very same bodies of government that passed laws and ignored common sense.

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aworker4progress 6 years, 2 months ago

Rob Douglas has once again proven to be yet another hack trying to pass his own viewpoints as journalism rather than opinion. Then again were he to work for something that even remotely resembled a newspaper, instead it seems that the paper must be some sort of mathematical equation as it: seems to ADD trouble, SUBTRACT pleasure. DIVIDE attention and MULTIPLIES ignorance. (man I wish I had made that thought up, if I knew who did I would have referenced him or her.)

Oh and grannyrett- It is not money but rather the LOVE of money...

"For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (King James Version)....

As has been shown many times and as we all know the same book says many things that when taken literally have lead to many atrocities and abominations all in the name of God...as history has proven and shown us all too many times.

It seems to me that economic realities caused by those elected to office, at any level of government, remain hidden to the very same bodies of government that passed laws and ignored common sense. Spending from the average Joe to the Whitehouse to the world is out of control, spending? I should have said debt.

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id04sp 6 years, 2 months ago

Another_Local,

If you don't pay your property tax, the taxing authority puts a lien on it, and can sell it to recover the taxes owed. Owners may petition for a corrected assessment, based on facts which are not visible from the street, but in the end, the taxing authority holds the cards.

YOUR problem, as a city dweller, is city spending. YOUR other problem is attracting people to spend money so the meager city sales tax can be collected. People can avoid the sales tax, but they cannot avoid the property tax. I think I could make a case that too much county money is spent on projects that benefit city dwellers, and those of us who live more than 10 miles outside the city limits and do not work in the city should get a tax break based on those two facts alone.

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StbtWatchmen 6 years, 2 months ago

aworker4progress, Thanks for the quotes for Granny's comment. That's what was meant but was misinterpret.

All, I'm not for new taxes because; I feel we are taxed to heck anyway! Sometimes, we have to live within our means and readjust priorities. With the way the economy is and the forecast as dim as it is, we should be careful and not squander things.

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aworker4progress 6 years, 2 months ago

STBTWATCHMEN and GRANNYRET---I made a mistake...I am Sorry and do apologize. If you/she meant to quote the bible or not was not my issue, it was just that I must have misread the post. The Bible IS where the quote "...love of money...etc. etc..." comes from. God forbid I accuse someone whom I do not know, of using the bible for an instruction manual, reference source, or even a weapon, some good has come from doing so, but sadly so too has many atrocious things. I must have just misread and misunderstood the objective.

I might have spoke too soon as well about opinion versus news articles...the biography for this man does show him as a story writer/photographer not an editor. Since I only recently started reading this sorry example of journalism again, (because I do not have to physically posses it anymore), I too may have been overzealous in my criticism. I gave up on having this rag in my possession seven years ago, after having been a regular reader for three times (give or take) as long.

My opinion, (on this), is that for the most part the entire paper is trying to emulate the right wing and reactionary brand and biases of Rupert Murdoch's monopoly are simply that:opinion. Even more simply it is my own. None here would argue that I am not entitled to have one and express it. At least that is my naÃive, (I wish I could say due to inexperience and youth), and hopeful view of some things. Perhaps though I should limit my inclination to tweak things I find as being muddled, and simply just leave the muddling for the Mojitos and chocolate sodas. Then again, if no one questions anything anyone says, oh wait that is how Genghis W. Bush achieved office. I am not so grandiose to believe that anything I think or say will change the world, but so far, it does seem to have ticked some people off.

I agree STBTWATCHMEN, frugality and even generosity must become us, as individuals, neighborhoods, communities, towns/cities, counties, states, institutions and nations.

All this most likely could have been better said and written but not by me or I would have done so. I wonder whom I irritated this time.

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