Sonja Macys: Douglas column off-base

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Friday’s front page opinion piece titled “Leaving money on the table” used quotes from me out of context and mischaracterized me as fiscally irresponsible. It accused me of being part of a “quiet discussion” that aims to raise taxes and go after local residents’ “money on the table.” The column was so far off base that it merits a response.

Written by columnist Rob Douglas (whose columns should appear with the other opinion pieces, not on the front page), it said, “The fiscally sound path is to keep the existing tax system and rates.” That statement assumes there’s no capacity to change our system for the better — only for the worse. Change may be scary for some, but the Steamboat Springs City Council should not defend the status quo for that reason. We ought to be open to discussion about areas for improvement. If we can allow for greater transparency in the budgeting process, potential cost savings for the taxpayer, and better planning and prioritization of how and when deferred expenditures are addressed, why wouldn’t we?

Douglas was correct in saying that I believe we ought to change our approach to budgeting. Currently, the city makes a projection about what sales tax revenue will come in and then decides how to spend it. Perhaps a better place to start would be identifying our fiscal obligations and goals and comparing them to revenue projections. For most of us, this is “budgeting 101.” We look at the expenses in our own budgets and compare them to our income to be sure that we can cover needed expenditures. If we can’t, we either redefine what “needed expenditures” are and cut expenses or increase revenue.

Douglas’ analysis of my quotes suggests that my problem with the current budgeting model is that I think we should raise your taxes so we can spend more. Actually, my concern with the current model is that it does not require a critical assessment of our expenditures prior to setting a cap on revenue available. Nor does it include a strategic approach to planning for expenditures that cannot be met from one budget cycle to the next. At budget time, we ought to have a full, transparent, public discussion about what ought to be funded based on revenue projections. And if we can’t fund something immediately but need it eventually, let’s attach a timeframe to finding funding to support it. And yes, there are revenue-generating possibilities that do not include raising your taxes. If we don’t, let’s take it off the table. This approach would provide certainty to staff and allow them to work more effectively to meet agreed upon community goals.

Such a discussion might also yield a prioritized list of our obligations and goals. On capital projects, a list exists. Other items that have been “kicked down the road,” like a plan for employee pay, float out in the ether with sporadic discussions here and there but no strategic approach to making a decision about them.

In 2012, the Tax Policy Advisory Board presented a set of recommendations about how we could be more effective in governing. Many have been implemented and were reported on at the April 17, 2013, council meeting. Things like establishing debt policies and having the city’s external auditor present to City Council make good business sense. So, when two members of the Tax Policy Advisory Board asked to meet with council member Cari Hermacinski and me to discuss additional recommendations (within their rights as residents and in compliance with the Colorado Open Meetings Law), I was happy to make time for that.

During the meeting, they suggested several ways the city could improve, one being the way we create our budget. I agree. Does that mean that I am part of a “quiet discussion” to raise your taxes? No. Improving the budgeting process does not equate to raising taxes. Fiscal discipline is a value that I espoused in my campaign and have brought to my public service. My aim is to ensure that our taxpayer money is used wisely to achieve the goals that we have set together. If you hear otherwise, please give me a call. I am happy to clarify any of my statements to be sure that they are understood correctly.

Sonja Macys is a Steamboat Springs City Council member.

Comments

Neil O'Keeffe 1 year, 1 month ago

Thanks for the clarification Sonja! Too many people seem to have agendas in search of soapboxes to broadcast their reinterpretation of the facts and unfortunately there is an audience out there ready to believe everything they hear as long as it suits their needs. March on Sheeple!

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Dan Kuechenmeister 1 year, 1 month ago

"too many people seem to have agendas in search of soapboxes" Hmmmm - must be looking in the mirror Hey Rhys - Jerry. How about Cuddy

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jerry carlton 1 year, 1 month ago

How about a loud discussion about how to reduce our taxes? That would be a different approach.

Dan Cuddy is comning on at the perfect time with Tulo out.

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john bailey 1 year, 1 month ago

whats with all the gray lines? just show the article ,sheesh less taxes? what a concept.......free hula tomorrow...~;0)

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Neil O'Keeffe 1 year, 1 month ago

No agenda, just tired of the vocal minority that thinks they speak for all of us. All the usual suspects rounding up the wagons, really quite boring. Peace Out!

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 1 month ago

Since Sonja's letter leaves open the possibility of needing additional revenues then Rob's column is not wrong or unfair.

If Sonja had said that this City has a tremendous amount of revenue compared to every other city of comparable population and the one thing that is clearly not needed are additional revenues then Rob's column would have been unfair.

It would be nice if we had at least one city council member willing to say that it is crazy how spending has been allowed to reach revenues when other cities run fine with half or a third as much spending per capita. That there should be plenty of money available to pay for the needed storm water projects which the city has neglected for years.

This city is like a pro athlete that is very fortunate to being paid millions. This city council looks at other athletes that have even bigger contracts and not at rest of the population budgeting in the thousands. This city spends to it's high income even as others do very well spending far less. This city is so far from poverty that it is offensive when it suggests it might need more money.

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Steve Lewis 1 year, 1 month ago

The problem with comparing ourselves with "other cities" is... they are not us. Generic is not the answer for Steamboat. Keeping this the most awesome place to live is far more complicated than Rob's preceeding column allows.

I'm not advocating more taxes or less taxes. Just be the smartest councilors you can be. I take it that Sonja and Cari were trying to be just that. The tax policy volunteers are worth listening to. "Behind closed doors" is counterproductive hyperbole, IMO.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 1 month ago

Steve,

More city government spending is not what makes this a most awesome place.

How other cities operate are run is an useful comparison because it can suggest that other cities have found more effective ways to operate.

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mark hartless 1 year, 1 month ago

What's down in the well comes up in the bucket.

And if you just listen long enough to people like Steve you will ALWAYS get a clear picture that they believe the "herd" is something to be managed.

"Keeping this an awesome place..." requires the type of enlightenment only he and a select number of elite, annointed individuals posses.

The arrogance of these folks is rivaled only by their ability to forget their last "management" disasters.

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Steve Lewis 1 year, 1 month ago

We have a City Council fully intended to lead Steamboat. They run for that office, per Rob in today’s column, for commendable reasons. In your world these are self-annointed herders. Angry writing, Mark?

You post a constant stream of what the world should be. Mark, you often rank your opponents as fools. Arrogant enlightenment? Lighten up. Or look in the mirror.

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Dan Kuechenmeister 1 year, 1 month ago

Steve, Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Guess we will have to monitor your comments as well for civility You will gain credibility when you call out Neil as well.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 1 month ago

I think the biggest challenge for any elected official is to have skepticism of plans proposed by staff for wanted things. Just because something is desirable does not mean that the plans to achieve that are financially sound.

It seems that about everyone agrees that improvements to Yampa St would be nice. But this city came awfully close to selling it's current public services building without a plan for a replacement police or fire station. The project was publicly claimed to be based upon the advice of urban planners and that selling the building would have a dramatic impact. Except if you actually read in depth the proposal made by city staff then you saw there was no supporting facts for their claims.

The Iron Horse purchase was also obviously based upon a flawed justification that some skepticism would have revealed the hopes exceeded the reality.

Just like YVHA board didn't want to destroy the authority by buying the Elk River parcel, but anyone cautiously skeptic would have recognized the risks of a proposed project 10 times bigger than their other assets combined. And they had to have ignored the risks of the national economy entering recession that could be expected to affect a resort area.

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George Fargo 1 year, 1 month ago

Sonja, thanks for posting this answer. The original column by Douglas made no sense. "I don't like government so I want them to keep things the same." HUH! "She's looking for alternate funding methods so she's going to raise your taxes." HUH! I think he had a deadline and no ideas.

Thanks for thinking outside the box. I hope you do generate some innovate ideas on better ways of budgeting and obtaining new funding.

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Dan Kuechenmeister 1 year ago

Obtaining new funding? What about cutting spending

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Scott Wedel 1 year ago

Sure, it makes sense to have new programs as times change.

But government has very little pressure to seek efficiencies in existing programs or to question whether existing programs should continue. That as long as there are sufficient revenues then government tends to continue as is and seek to grow.

Only during a recession is there pressure to examine current programs and seek cuts. During the recent recession, the City of SB managed to make serious cuts that seemingly no one noticed. And since then the City has restored spending and seemingly no one has noticed the increased benefits.

So I suggest that there is nothing wrong with thinking there might be more beneficial programs the city could undertake. I just suggest to also find the programs that can be cut which the recent swings in city spending certainly suggest do exist.

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mark hartless 1 year ago

Steve,

I often rank people as fools because, well... if it waddles like a duck, and quacks like a duck...

And yes, Steve, many of these elected folks ARE "self-annointed herders" because they overstep their rightful authority constantly, and drag the rest of us along under their bus to stops like Iron Horse, etc.

Don't forget that many times these people only get their power by a very slim margin, which means that at any given time 45%-49.5% or even more might oppose this thing you call "leadership".

One mans "leadership" is another mans gun to the head, Steve.

And we have been over this before, but it bears repeating: It doesnt matter if a majority agrees to do something, if it is not within the domain of government it is still WRONG, and is an act of FORCE. How come folks like you can understand the wrongfulness of a lynch-mob, or rape gang, but can't see that a 51% majority in government can be the exact same thing?

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