Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.
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The Steamboat Springs City Council — most notably Cari Hermacinski, Scott Myller and Bart Kounovsky — should cast their eyes on the news release announcing TIC’s departure from Steamboat Springs. Specifically, they should examine TIC’s logo.
The logo contains three italicized words — Powered By People — that should remind the council to resolve long-standing issues surrounding city employee compensation before reconsidering the proposal to use $7 million from the city’s reserve fund to raze the Iron Horse Inn and construct a new police station in its place.
Even though Powered By People is TIC’s trademark, it also describes the birthplace of TIC — Steamboat Springs. Like most communities, Steamboat largely is defined by the hard work of a small city staff that keeps the city successfully operating. Unlike most communities, our city employees must succeed in spite of weather and tourism challenges that are unique to the ’Boat. Truly, Steamboat’s government is powered by people.
Therefore, when faced with the need to resolve employee compensation issues versus the desire to move forward on a recently sprung plan for a new police headquarters, the council should adopt its own three word phrase: People Before Buildings.
Before the council considers building a new police station, it has a responsibility to confront the reality that for years, city employees have been told the city could not afford to increase their compensation because of the need to build the reserve fund in case of another downturn in the economy or an infrastructure emergency.
City staff and taxpayers are being told by Hermacinski, Myller and Kounovsky — with Deputy City Manager Deb Hinsvark riding shotgun — reserve funds maintained for emergencies or a double-dip recession suddenly are available for a new police station. As the Steamboat Today editorial board noted earlier this week, this is a rushed “decision that could cost taxpayers millions of dollars without being thoroughly vetted.”
The council and management team proponents of the new police station argue there are different categories of reserve funds that the city can draw upon and that tapping those funds for a new police station won’t jeopardize the fiscal health of the city. Even if true, that is not the message that has been trumpeted from Citizens Hall the past four years. It’s no wonder you can’t find a neck brace in town given the whiplash this change of direction has inflicted citywide.
The move to authorize a new police station before solving long-festering employee compensation issues is wrong-headed and appears to be a example of elected officials placing subjective personal desires before objective community needs. Unfortunately, in this case, Hermacinski, Myller and Kounovsky may have exposed sooty fingerprint evidence of a political goal to, literally, burn down the Iron Horse Inn — visually eradicating one of the largest financial fiascos in city history while simultaneously settling political scores.
While the noxious belief that all is fair in love, war and politics permeates our nation, perhaps here at home we can choose a different path — a path that puts people before buildings.
That doesn’t mean all city workers are entitled to raises and that those raises should come at the expense of needed capital infrastructure repairs or the maintenance of healthy reserves. Conversely, it doesn’t mean that city workers aren’t deserving of raises.
It does mean that resolving employee compensation issues should not fall prey to the false argument that the use of the city’s reserve account to build a police station differs from the use of the operating account for employee compensation. In recent years, the city has moved funds from account to account to meet needs as they arose because of the lasting impacts of the recession. Revenue projections have been tweaked to satisfy policy goals while building reserves. Given pre-existing and ongoing budget gamesmanship, it doesn’t pass the laugh test to claim that employee compensation must be handled differently from an optional multimillion-dollar capital project.
Human decency and fairness — which in this case translates to good public policy — dictates that a resolution of legitimate employee compensation grievances should take precedence over the construction of a new police station.
People before buildings. It really is that simple.
Since 1998, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.