Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs While playing Fred C. Dobbs in "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," Humphrey Bogart and his companions are confronted by a group of outlaws impersonating Mexican federal police. Dobbs is immediately suspicious and demands proof from Gold Hat - the outlaws' leader - that they are "Federales."
Dobbs: "If you're the police, where are your badges?"
Gold Hat: "Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinkin' badges!"
A quarter of a century later, in the satirical Western comedy "Blazing Saddles," the classic line was re-popularized as "Badges? We don't need no stinking badges!"
It was that rendition of the line that Steamboat Springs City Council President Loui Antonucci chose to cut the tension Tuesday evening, as the City Council reviewed $2.5 million in proposed cuts to the city's 2009 budget.
As Public Safety Director J.D. Hays stood at the podium outlining $150,075 in cuts to the Steamboat Springs Police Department that, combined with earlier cuts, will result in a 17 percent slash in the police operating budget year-over-year, Antonucci asked Hays whether the cuts included badges. When Hays fulfilled the role of straight man by responding affirmatively, Antonucci evoked laughter with his recitation of "Badges? We don't need no stinking badges!"
Other than that brief respite, there was no humor to be found in the painful belt-tightening this week. And unfortunately, by agreeing with the recommendations of city management, the council may have been too passive in its role as final arbitrators. The result of that passivity may bring harm to core government services - especially public safety.
Inexplicably, the council failed to fully follow the Jefferson County budget-cutting model it adopted. That process ranks each program or service the city provides in order of importance to the city and aids city management in identifying which programs to cut, regardless of department, while maintaining the health and vitality of core services. And, in theory, the process relies upon a final arbitrator - in this case, City Council - to be sure that the cuts truly are weighted in favor of core services.
As we all know, theory and reality often are two different things.
Although the JeffCo process was followed in some aspects - most notably, the ranking of city services - it is not clear that it was faithfully used in implementing the proposed budget cuts. However, it is clear that council members did not have all the necessary budget data before them to appropriately evaluate the cuts they authorized.
Councilman Walter Magill correctly questioned how they could approve the latest round of cuts without having the prior round, previously incorporated in the 2009 budget, before them to assess the overall impact. Councilwoman Cari Hermacinski agreed with Magill and noted because of the increases some departments have received during the past several years while others - most notably, public safety - have remained relatively stagnant, the baseline year for adjudicating the equity of cuts should be 2007 or earlier, not 2008. But bizarrely, instead of recessing the meeting for 15 minutes and directing staff to gather the missing data, the council forged ahead in the dark.
Additionally, some of the budget reductions are not cuts at all. Hundreds of thousands of dollars originally budgeted for fuel no longer are needed because of lower fuel costs. Although everyone is thankful for those savings, that is not a cut. Also, original budgeting errors uncovered during the review process inappropriately are being credited as cuts.
So, by the end of Tuesday's meeting, the city was left with a police department hoping to get federal stimulus dollars to fill much-needed patrol positions.
That is just wrong.
The council should be fully funding the entire Department of Public Safety. There is no more core service than police, fire and emergency medical services. As things already stand, the police are responding to 50 percent more calls for service with only 18 percent more personnel during the past decade. Similar demands are being placed upon the city's fire department and emergency medical services.
It is the council members' responsibility, as the elected representatives of Steamboat Springs, to fully understand the budget they are responsible for and to have all the relevant data before them when approving the budget. It is also the council's responsibility to understand that because of the internal machinations of large organizations - and that is what they sit atop - that the product that appears before them may not always be the one they originally envisioned.
Perhaps the council might pause and be sure the budget it is about to enact accomplishes the original stated goal of protecting and enriching core services before those that are nice - but not necessary.
We need those stinkin' badges.