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: Fiscal challenges bring opportunity

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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.

As the possibility becomes a probability that Routt County will not escape the national economic downturn, the deadlines for local government budgets loom. As our respective town, city and county officials attempt to quench the unquenchable thirst of all who quaff tax revenue, their mettle will be severely tested.

Yet, as with all challenges, there is opportunity.

An opportunity to return to a time before government incrementally morphed into a financial redistribution center where special interest groups seek to fund organizations ad infinitum with tax dollars.

An opportunity to return to a time when Americans relied solely on the private sector to raise capital for their businesses - be they for-profit or nonprofit - instead of seeking government assistance.

An opportunity to return to a time when government only provided services essential for infrastructure, safety, education and aid for the truly needy, and did not provide services best left in the hands of the free market.

Given the financial straits our local governments must navigate as they enter fiscal waters low on cash flow but deep in expenditures, we should avail ourselves of those opportunities by restoring government as it was originally and constitutionally designed.

In short, we should restore government as a provider of essential core services - nothing more and nothing less.

But that's the rub, isn't it? How do we, as a community, define core services?

For some, programs for the arts are a core service and should be supported financially by the government. Others view artistic culture as an integral part of life - just not one that should be funded from government coffers.

The same is true about sports. Some believe sports enrich life to a degree that justifies government treating sports programs as an essential function. Others argue sports, like the arts, should rise or fall in the private marketplace based on value as determined by consumers.

Arguably, the same can be said about all programs other than those providing services essential to the safety and infrastructure of the community along with primary and secondary education and assistance for those who cannot assist themselves. There always will be someone who steps before the podium of government and proclaims their particular program deserves public funding, and there will be those who find the proffered program not worthy of those dollars.

After all, we live in the age of entitlements with an electorate that clamors for government to provide an ever-lengthening array of services once considered the responsibility of individuals. From higher education to jobs; from health insurance to child care; and from housing to retirement income, there is always some segment of society that wants government to provide for their special interest or individual need - as long as someone else incurs the tax consequences.

Which brings us back to the unenviable task facing our local leaders, the task of deciding how to slice the tax revenue pie. And, while no two people will ever agree completely about what government should or shouldn't fund, there is one approach we should all agree upon.

Before a dime is spent on anything other than essential core services - safety, infrastructure, primary and secondary education and assistance for those incapable of assisting themselves - we must fully staff and fairly compensate those providing the core services.

The local men and women who protect us, maintain our roads and infrastructure and educate our children should be compensated at rates sufficient to allow them to thrive in Routt County - not just subsist. They should be compensated at rates that ensure full staffing of all departments instead of constant turnover that detracts from consistency while adding hiring and training expenses. And, they should be compensated at rates that are not just competitive with similar communities, but also demonstrate the degree we value their public service.

The current economic challenges present our local governments with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rethink the responsibilities of government compared to the responsibilities of individuals.

The wise decision is to face that opportunity squarely by beginning the process of returning government to providing core services. Otherwise, what is now an opportunity soon will be a more painful necessity.

To reach Rob Douglas, e-mail Rob.Douglas@Comcast.net

Comments

Fred Duckels 6 years ago

Rob: I agree with your stated position except for the position " full staff, low pay and ensuing turnover problem". I have spent my life here and population turnover is a given. This includes periods when the cost of living was moderate. Steamboat is a nice place and many have thought that they wanted to live here over the years. It is a new experience but often the conversation turns to how things were back home. Regardless of affluence the percentage of people who stay indefinitely is small. When the city hires I assume that they choose from a variety of applicants, many who would like to give Steamboat a try. In the case of local applicants we often know them and we often overlook the prophet in our midst. This leads to hiring from outside or short time residents who "love this valley". Usually good talent already has a job and are not out looking. Steamboats pay and benefits are much better than the local workforce at large. My suggestion would be for the city to give established residents a long look. Their resumes may not shine as much and they may not have a gift of gab but in the long run I think we will have something to take to the bank. I have spent a half century hiring and today I do not have one employee that moved here for a job. Lord knows I have tried but it never seems to work longterm. We can't afford to compensate our employees based on what it costs for a new hire with no assets to achieve the Steamboat dream.

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Matthew Stoddard 6 years ago

Since the City relies on Sales Tax for...everything, they should be helping with marketing. Marketing Steamboat to tourists is the only way, currently, that we get by. If nobody is coming, nobody is spending money except those of us that live here.

Since there is no other industry that can sustain Steamboat as of now, until the City implements a property tax, it owes it's constituents to market Steamboat.

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Steve Lewis 6 years ago

Rob, you would have a hard time arguing that marketing is a core service. Are you prepared to say we should cut that funding?

Please spend more time weighing, and maybe even addressing, the obvious counterpoints to your slant.

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Scott Wedel 6 years ago

The City of Steamboat Springs should absolutely not be in the marketing business. Unlike funding arts, recreation and so on, it is not clear how the City paying for marketing helps the citizens of SB. At best there is a trickle down effect, at worst it is giving a subsidy to the major corporations that own the ski area and large hotels.

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Scott Wedel 6 years ago

It is not the job of government to promote the activities which bring in the most taxes.

If that were the job of City government then we should want them to start collecting income taxes because then the City would work towards creating high paying jobs.

This philosophy of government promoting activities that bring in the most taxes is not good for the community. It means that it becomes government policy to build rental units for tourists or short term housing (nightly and weekly rentals are taxable) for seasonal workers, but not homes or apts (for long term rentals).

It creates a situation where the residents whom are already here and will spend here regardless are far less important to the City than tourists that could go elsewhere.

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Matthew Stoddard 6 years ago

I believe it is our City Government's job to put money into helping promote/market Steamboat; maybe just not the job of marketing itself. They are the ones who instituted the City's reliance on a sales tax revenue economy. They should pay to make it worthwhile. I'm only guessing, but I'd say that 80% of businesses rely on tourists to keep them open to compete with others in town.

Every construction company has to build stuff, right? Why? To accomodate a majority 2nd homes/condos...for tourists to stay in.

Gas stations- without tourism, how many gas stations would no longer make living?

Banks- how many banks handle multiple property management accounts...accounts for HOA's that rent units to tourists?

Skiing- how many lifts will be open if nobody comes and they can't pay lifties or sell exhorbitant priced food?

Name a Steamboat industry: I bet I can find less than 6 Degrees of Separation from the Tourist Industry that fuels our sales tax revenue to almost any business, in some way, shape or form.

Again- no visitors, no city sales tax revenue, no money to pay for anything at all. Steamboat only collects money from County Property Taxes and gave up implementing City Property Taxes almost 2 decades ago. Steamboat Springs is reliant on sales tax revenue to survive. They (past councils) made it this way- they should pay to make sure it stays in the black.

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Steve Lewis 6 years ago

Actually, while I agree with your economics Matt, the people of Steamboat, via a ballot, switched from property taxes to sales taxes. Early 80's?

A good move given sales taxes have grown much more than property taxes which are kept at or below inflation by TABOR. But maybe a bad move because its less stable.

For good or bad, the City is now motivated to build amenities and to bring tourists. But you can't say that is the people's wish. It will take more than an trickle down economics argument to claim marketing is a core service.

Another problem for Rob's column: The City did give Lodges the right to tax their patrons 2% to fund the LMD and subsidize airline flights here (and advertise to get traffic onto those flights). That is run by the Ski Corp. Any way you slice that one, and I much as I like to ski, Ski Corp is NOT providing a core service to all of us.

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Matthew Stoddard 6 years ago

Steve- I'm not sure of the timing. I was in High School til 1984 and didn't pay much attention to local politics at that time (and didn't own property). I thought I'd heard the property taxes went away in the latter half of the 80's (1987-88??- I was in the Army then, so again, not paying attention to local politics since I wasn't here), since most of the overbuilding caused a stagnation, prompting the decision to "market" Steamboat as having no City Prop. Taxes to spur sales.

This would have been before TABOR was implemented, also, so I'm not sure if it ever went to a vote if all they did was switch the tax revenue source. I could be wrong on that, though.

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Steve Lewis 6 years ago

Matt, Whatever the reason to switch to sales tax back then, I agree it had nothing to do with my comparisons above. I also was away in the latter 80's.

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Steve Lewis 6 years ago

The column was about cutting funding to our community organizations.

And Rob makes it a question of entitlement payments, focusing on the recipients. Your only decision is: core service or entitlements.

Except this is a bigger budget than budget that. We should step back and be a little more holistic. We should wonder if some OTHER budget item might be more expendable than Mainstreet and its brethren?

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arshouse 6 years ago

Rob, thank you for tackling a local issue that is sparking some meaningful debate. While your political views are obvious, at least you are not attacking anyone directly in this article (Oak Creek Police force has now resigned, you satisfied yet?).

By the way, how much of the city's budget money goes to the Winter Sports Club? It seems that most of the club's participants are from wealthy families that do not need help from the rest of the taxpayers.

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