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: We need those stinkin' badges

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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.

— 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.

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

Comments

Troy Kuhl 5 years, 9 months ago

What's your problem Scott, don't you like Police and Fire? It doesn't matter that we have fewer tourists. Most of the incidents in this town are created by locals not tourists. The numbers of incidents are growing every year reguardless of the number of tourists that come to Steamboat. You should do your homework before you think up this crap.

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sockittoem 5 years, 9 months ago

The current economic climate should be a reminder to all of us that vital services, specifically police and fire protection should not be subject to abysmal sales tax receipts. Most municipal and county governments pay for these services through partial property taxes ( a deductible item, I might add). When the lights are entirely out on the mountain, we will still need firefighters and officers in this town ~ oops, I forgot this is the 'boat..where we want everyone else to pay for our services.

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Scott Wedel 5 years, 9 months ago

I am glad that the police are able to respond to 50% more calls with only 18% more officers. I hope that is due to gains in productivity. It would be nice to think that good management has led to that sort of productivity improvements.

That is not an entirely relevant argument as to whether or not the police budget should be cut. If there are 20% fewer tourists visiting SB then maybe the expected number of incidents has decreased and thus reducing the need for officers.

Please note that I am not saying that I think cutting the police budget was appropriate. I'm just saying that the question is how the budget cuts (due to less tourism) is going to affect police services.

The deeper question question for the other city depts is whether they have been well managed and show similar productivity gains. City government is not supposed to be a right to work employment agency.

I worked for years for a company that had a basic rule that each year each dept is supposed to do 20% more for the same amount of money plus 10% for productivity improvements. Some parts of City government have had no apparent gains in productivity for years.

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aichempty 5 years, 9 months ago

Scott,

Following your logic, let's take a street sweeper. Assume that a street sweeper can be more productive by driving faster to cover more ground in the same period of time. Let's say that 3 mph is the starting speed.

With a 20% increase in productivity required, the street sweeper would have to be going faster than the speed limit by year 12. In year 20, the sweeper would be going 115 mph.

So, how about just cutting costs 20% per year. Well, a clerk making $36,000 per year is going to be working for only $3,865 after ten years. That sounds like a good deal, right?

It makes much more sense to eliminate city services and programs that don't involve maintenance of streets, water, sewer and police and fire services. Shift the cost of everything else back to the consumers of services. No tennis bubble, for example. No flowers in the medians. No parks unless volunteers maintain them, including costs for materials and equipment. No ball fields. No Howelsen Hill.

But how can "we" live without all those things? Oh, that's easy. I never used any of those things even once except for a brief stroll through Art in the Park one day about 15 years ago.

The free ride funded by affluent tourists is over, for now. We just need a big bar suspended across the street on both ends of town with the phrase, "You must spend this much to enter," displayed prominently for all to see, and collect the money as folks enter, exchanging it for Boat Bucks that can be used to purchase goods and services inside the city limits.

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Scott Ford 5 years, 9 months ago

Sitting in the visitor gallery on Tuesday night was a bit surreal. Our new City manager started the budget discussion by spending far more time than necessary rehashing a situation we are all familiar with. This was followed by spreading around enough accolades I thought I was at the Academy Awards ceremony. I attributed this re-play of the facts and liberal use of praises as a way he was trying to assure us he understood the problem and appreciated staff's efforts. OK We got it! We got it in the first minute we did not need 5 minutes of this dribble.

One of the reasons he gets paid the "big bucks" is to anticipate the needs of City Council for information. Several members of council asked how they could approve the latest round of cuts without having the prior round of budget cuts made previously incorporated in the 2009 budget, before them to assess the overall impact. Great question! I appreciate that Mr. Roberts has only been on the job for three weeks, but he is not new to being a city manager. Missing this step was a mistake a "Rookie" would make. First impressions matter.

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Scott Wedel 5 years, 9 months ago

The idea behind productivity gains is not merely doing the same job faster for less money. The biggest gains are by changing the job to be more effective. Such as the street sweeper using real time info to not sweep a basically clean street Or a clerk's job changing to put info online instead of answering questions from the public. And when answering questions is done by a quick search instead of referring the caller to a city dept.

Or the example of budget info, good online budget info could have allowed council to get answers to their questions during the meeting. Or to encourage online payments as that is easier to process. And so on.

This is not pie in the sky sort of stuff. The police are presumably able to respond to 50% more calls because they use modern systems that create the record of the incident without the officer spending hours in the office doing paperwork. And using digital cameras allows instantly storing photo evidence in the case file as compared to developing film and sorting through the photos to put the right one in the right files.

And it is not entirely irrational for the City to be highly dependent upon sales tax because that is directly proportional to many of the expenses of the City. If we have fewer tourists then we will have fewer incidents, fewer police calls, fewer rescues and so on.

The problem with the City's budget is not income, but expenses. 3 employees in historic preservation is ridiculous. Expenses for Iron Horse ($400K) exist because of really bad choices. Number of construction projects has plummeted and yet size of planning staff barely changes. The Council needs to stop looking at cutting based upon current dept budgets, but look at what is needed now and pay for that.

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sickofitall 5 years, 9 months ago

uh like ...huh.. huh... huh...Ill take a report!

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