Steve Hitchcock: Case hasn't been made

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The current discussion focused on the location for a police station finesses the questions:

  1. Do we need new public safety facilities?
  2. If need exists, how to fund them?
  3. Is a new police station the best way to meet needs?

I will not argue here that the facility is not needed or that it is, only that the case has not been made. There have been other solutions proposed that may be a better use of our money. Unsupported statements from members of council or city staff that a facility is needed are not sufficient. In part, it is the approach to funding using so-called “reserves” that permits this undisciplined communication. Spending “reserves” (whether real or not) does not require a vote of the electorate to approve.

Voting for bonding was the process used for recent large- ticket items in our community (library, elementary school) and similar, in that there was a vote, to the process to commit funds for the airline program and the half-cent tax for education. Steamboat will support worthwhile ideas at the ballot when the need is communicated. Conversely, when we have a largely internal process that avoids the voter, we get results like the Iron Horse.

“Deferred maintenance is the practice of postponing maintenance activities such as repairs on both real property and personal property in order to save costs, meet budget funding levels or realign available budget monies. Generally, a policy of continued deferred maintenance may result in higher costs, asset failure and, in some cases, health and safety implications.”

The city of Steamboat Springs has about $6 million of current deferred maintenance and an additional $15 million of maintenance expenses in the coming years. These are things we know need to be done, but they have been put off to accumulate cash. One reason our reserves look good is that we have not been spending on these items during the recession in case those funds were needed for ordinary operations. Now, there is a danger that we will spend those funds on new construction rather than catching up with the work that has been deferred. It would be disappointing if this were then presented as the justification for new taxes

The city has had a long term plan for capital improvements and repairs, which are funded with “use tax.” In the most recent approved budget (October 2012), new public safety facilities were not mentioned on the list of the most important projects. The previously identified projects use all of the projected use tax for the foreseeable future without completing the list. At current tax receipt levels, there is a shortfall in use tax to meet those needs. This means that we may want to use general fund reserves to maintain roads and bridges until such time that construction activity returns to a level that will produce the use tax needed for this purpose.

City staff is proposing that we spend “reserve” funds to build a $9 million building claiming the reserves we have are “excessive.” This disingenuous argument ignores the fact that we have deferred maintenance and capital needs that exceed the total of our uncommitted reserves.

I applaud the fact that the current council has put decision-making off and, hopefully, into the hands of a new council. The candidates standing for election should make this a key topic of discussion. If the new council decides that new or enhanced facilities are required to the tune of $9 million, I hope they dispose of the idea of using reserves, put the proposal on the ballot and “sell” it to us on the merits.

Steve Hitchcock

Steamboat Springs

Comments

Scott Wedel 1 year, 2 months ago

If the case is made then there would be little gained by it going to the ballot.

The key is that while a case was made for the need to replace the current police station that there has been no case made for why the proposed building is needed. No justification of why 18,000 sq ft is the magic size. No justification why a 6,000 sq ft garage is needed. No justification of why a $500 per sq ft construction cost.

The city council meeting materials included letters from the public asking those questions. One letter from a builder included detailed questioning of the $500 per sq ft construction cost. Neither city staff or city council has attempted to publicly answer the public's questions.

If this city council were to make a decision to build their proposed police station then there would probably be a petition drive resulting in a public vote to rescind their unjustified decision.

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Martha D Young 1 year, 2 months ago

Thank you Scott F, Scott W and Steve for bringing badly needed perspective and insight into this issue.

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John Fielding 1 year, 2 months ago

I agree with both Scotts. The case has been made that the police are making do with cramped and marginal spaces. By extension, an improvement is indicated, but the nature of that accommodation is very much an unresolved question.

I also agree that if council were to vote to spend the reserves on a new facility there would be a successful petition to recall the decision, and I predict it would succeed with the voters.

I advocate for restrictions on how the council can choose to spend the accumulated reserves. I also think there should be a limit on how large a reserve we may accumulate. And I further maintain that a limit be placed on what and how much altogether can be spent. If the economy rebounds and tax collections are plentiful we will be asked to spend it on a whole list of worthy causes, from fully funding the Steamboat Symphony to buying and improving more park lands to revitalizing Yampa and Oak Street business districts.

The one worthy cause that does not get much consideration is relief for the local taxpayer. Both Tony Connell and I have made this a cornerstone of our platforms, by different means but the same end. The other contender yesterday advocated additional spending for the arts and employee compensation.

Deferred maintenance is currently the most critical area for budget increases.

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John St Pierre 1 year, 2 months ago

Question

Why can't the town offices be moved into the Vacant Iron Horse building???? Offices do not need the additional "beefing" up that law enforcement / Fire Dept uses need.... and build the facility on the city owned property.....

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John Fielding 1 year, 2 months ago

Nice spot for offices, right there by the river. Plenty of parking. Hmmmmmm...

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