Rob Douglas: 'Leaving money on the table'

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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 crawling along Yampa Street trying to obey the new 15 mph speed limit, take the time — you’ll have plenty of it — to think about whether you want the Steamboat Springs City Council to begin the process of saddling city residents with new taxes.

What’s that? You didn’t know there’s a quiet discussion underway about searching for a new tax revenue stream because a contingent inside and outside of the City Council thinks the council is “leaving money on the table,” as council member Sonja Macys unartfully phrased it this week?

On Tuesday evening, City Director of Financial Services Kim Weber gave a presentation to the council indicating the city plans to budget for a 3 percent increase in sales tax revenue for 2014.

After Weber’s presentation, Macys cast daylight on meetings that have been taking place between council members and proponents of changing the city’s tax structure.

“Some of us met with some folks from the Tax Policy Advisory Board and had a substantive discussion about the way that we’re doing our budgeting and doing our business,” Macys said.

“I’ve been questioning … whether or not looking at how much money we’re going to bring in and then how we’re going to spend it is the right approach.

“My approach is, look at what you need to purchase or do and support financially and then find the revenue to match that.

“I do continue to believe that by really only tying ourselves to sales tax and maybe not looking more creatively at where the gap might be, we are perhaps leaving money on the table that we could be bringing in to support some of the needs that we just haven’t addressed.

“Maybe we need to change some of our prioritization about how we find funds and support the activities that need to be supported.”

It should be noted that the rest of the council — Cari Hermacinski and Kenny Reisman were absent Tuesday — didn’t react to the new taxes trial balloon Macys inflated in Citizens Hall. But they also didn’t move to shoot it down before it escaped Centennial Hall.

It should be shot down.

There is little evidence that residents of Steamboat are open to the idea of new taxes. Arguably, most locals realize that before the Great Recession, the city had fallen into the habit of spending every dime that came its way while also indebting the city for years to come with the Iron Horse Inn and an excessive number of facilities that require maintenance in good times or bad.

Even before the recession hit, when tax revenue was at record levels, former council President Loui Antonucci repeatedly warned that the city couldn’t continue to spend at the rate it was because the trend lines showed spending overtaking tax revenue. In short, a series of councils drunk on taxes flowing from Steamboat’s development glut during the national real estate bubble spent as if the party never would end.

If there has been a silver lining in the recessionary cloud that still casts a shadow over Steamboat, the drop in city tax revenue has forced the last two councils to make difficult spending decisions that have placed the city on a path toward fiscal sobriety. With the local economy showing signs of modest improvement, this is no time for the council to fall off the wagon by ramping up spending.

Macys’ goal to first determine what the council “needs” and then go after the “money on the table” of local residents if those needs exceed projected revenue is wrongheaded. As anyone who has observed elected officials for more than five minutes knows, once money is transferred from kitchen tables to government coffers, the definition of “need” expands until the coffers once again are bare.

The fiscally sound path is to keep the existing tax system and rates so that the council must continue to budget within its means and prioritize capital projects throughout time. In so doing, this and future councils will be prevented from returning to the reckless spending habits of past councils.

To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Comments

Scott Wedel 1 year, 3 months ago

I was at a City Council meeting a couple months ago where the finance dept was explaining budgeting. Up came a chart showing how much different cities were spending per capita. It seemed to me that some of the City Council were impressed that Aspen and Vail had a lot more to spend per resident than they did. Meanwhile, some of us in attendance were impressed that there were cities that have good reputations as good places that are spending half as much as Steamboat per resident.

But I think Rob and this paper should ask Sonja Macys for her list of important services which are not funded. And then we can learn what essential government we are being deprived of. Only then can we knowledgeably decide whether we need what she is selling.

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Brian Kotowski 1 year, 3 months ago

Ye gods. It's not just "wrongheaded", Rob - it's absolutely bass-ackwards. I and virtually everyone I know have had to trim expenditures. I hope you and the Pilot will continue shine a light on these cockroaches gorging themselves at the public teat.

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George Hresko 1 year, 3 months ago

Rob-

Ms. Macy's concept on revenue and spending appears to be a variation on Parkinson's Law observing that "Work expands to fill the time available". "Needs" expand to fill the revenues collected. Prudent and politician seem mutually incompatible even in our little town.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 3 months ago

There is some point to not automatically spending as much as revenues allow.

It would make sense to have discussions on how much should be spent for various programs and what programs are needed. And then see how that adds up compared to tax revenues.

I wouldn't be surprised if what was seen as being essential programs added up to much less spending than current revenues. The main reason the City spends as much as it does is because they see how much they have to spend.

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jerry carlton 1 year, 3 months ago

Put term limits on these blood-sucking politicians! Sonja must think she is a Federal Government bloodsucker to be that arrogant!

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bill schurman 1 year, 3 months ago

"Blood-sucking" politicians ? Please, they are just city council people in a small town.

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mark hartless 1 year, 3 months ago

Like the city council people in Stockton California that were screwing the tax-payers and raking in ridiculous salkaries while the town went bankrupt? I suppose they were "just city council people in a small town" as well.

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Fred Duckels 1 year, 3 months ago

It seems that every group considers it's wants in the greater good category and as a good "investment".

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mark hartless 1 year, 3 months ago

"Investments" are something individual people make with their own individual money.

When mobs take OPM (other peoples money) by force it's not "investing", it's confiscation. And if the mere ability to bring force to bear makes something right then every lynch-mob, rape-gang, riot, and brawl is justified.

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jerry carlton 1 year, 3 months ago

Bill lived off tax payer dollars for how many years so he is probably very pro blood sucker. Taking every tax dollar possible and "not leaving any on the table" sounds live the very definition of blood sucking that I have heard all my life.

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mark hartless 1 year, 3 months ago

Yep. But the dollars are not "on the table". They are in the pockets of the hard-working taxpayers who earned them. From there they can go to pay for braces for the kids, groceries, new tires for the family car, a childs education, medical care, etc.

Or those dollars can be confiscated and used by jackwagons like this who have the nerve to act as if those dollars came easy to their "table".

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Dan Kuechenmeister 1 year, 2 months ago

Let's hope not all our city council are crickets. "During the wintertime, an ant was living off the grain that he had stored up for himself during the summer. The cricket came to the ant and asked him to share some of his grain. The ant said to the cricket, 'And what were you doing all summer long, since you weren't gathering grain to eat?' The cricket replied, 'Because I was busy singing I didn't have time for the harvest.' The ant laughed at the cricket's reply, and hid his heaps of grain deeper in the ground. 'Since you sang like a fool in the summer,' said the ant, 'you better be prepared to dance the winter away!'"

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