Saturday, January 28, 2012
Editorial Board, Sept. 25, 2011, to January 2012
- Scott Stanford, general manager
- Brent Boyer, editor
- Tom Ross, reporter
Contact the editorial board at 970-871-4221 or editor@SteamboatToday.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.
The city of Steamboat Springs wants your feedback on city services and costs. Sort of.
In reality, it seems what the city really wants from its online survey — available through Tuesday at www.steamboatsprings.net — is to show residents just how hard it is for the city to pay for much beyond essential services. That’s too bad. If city staff had focused a little less on trying to make that point and a little more on asking residents for their input, they would have better data to help in making the difficult choices ahead.
Deputy City Manager Deb Hinsvark said she hoped as many people as possible complete the “Dollar Game,” as the online survey is labeled on the city’s website. She said such public input is extremely valid and could help the city greatly with prioritizing needs.
We certainly wouldn’t discourage residents from playing the Dollar Game, but we find ourselves in agreement with Steamboat Springs City Council member Sonja Macys when it comes to the results. “I think it’s fun, but it’s not science,” Macys said. “It’s a fun, educational tool for the community to understand what items are included in the city budget and to have some interaction with the challenges that staff and City Council face. I just hope that nobody tries to use the data generated from that as a scientific tool for decision-making. That, in my opinion, would be inappropriate.”
The survey asks residents to choose from a list of city services and programs each with a specific cost assigned to it. Each time an item is selected, the available dollar shrinks by the item’s cost. The items on the list add up to $1.42, but the game won’t let you spend more than a dollar.
Once you’ve selected nine essential services such as police and fire protection, bus service and 1.5-percent cost of living adjustments for employees, you’re left with only a nickel to spend on 12 non-essential items — recreation programs, Howelsen Hill Ski Area, human resources coalition funding, summer marketing, the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs, etc. — that collectively cost 47 cents.
See the difficult choices the city faces?
There’s no opportunity in the survey to challenge the amount assigned to each service. Police services cost 27 cents on the dollar and there isn’t a chance to trim that back to, say, 25 cents. And the picture is not complete — the city intentionally omitted the cost of administrative services, which make up about 40 percent of city expenses, from the Dollar Game, saying those services already had been cut enough.
Also, the survey completely ignores perhaps the most pressing problem the city faces — the significant shortfall in use tax revenues, which are used to fund capital projects. As sales tax revenues continue to beat projections month after month, shouldn’t the Dollar Game ask about using reserves to fund the shortfall in capital? Situations like this are why we accumulate reserves in good times.
We understand the city has a challenging job in determining which nonessential services to fund amid myriad requests. That job is all the more challenging in Steamboat, where recreational amenities and marketing have such a significant impact on tourism and our economy.
The city needs an online survey that asks residents to rate and prioritize such non-essential services. The resulting data would be really helpful in determining which of those services residents think are important to fund and at what levels. Unfortunately, the Dollar Game, focused as it is on educating you on how expensive essential services are, does not do that. Have fun with it, but you shouldn’t expect much from the results, and neither should the City Council.