Scott Damman: Local entitlement and its burden
January 28, 2018
Wednesday's online edition had two written pieces that prompted me to write. One of the pieces was a letter to the editor, “Gary A. Jones: Society and freedom,” offering a big picture perspective, while the other was a news article, “Steamboat city manager urges fiscal restraint during low snow season,” representing the day to day and granular topic of city finances. Both of these pieces, although looking like polar opposites, tie together very well.
In an area where many like to throw about the word "sustainable," I am not so sure enough in the Steamboat Springs region really understand, or elect to acknowledge, the steps required to keep this region economically sustainable. This town I have seen run to support the ideas of non-essential luxuries but forgetting about the topic of paying the day-to-day bills. The mentally of "other people's money" has created an area of entitlement; making your wish-list a burden to others.
Let me get into a few specifics. Last November, the council voted to allocate $900,000 of a $1.2 million lodging tax surplus to expand the ice arena and add a second sheet of ice. The council has the discretion to spend this $1.2 million in a way to best serve the general community, but instead makes a decision that benefits a very small group.
But, why in the first place is the city even in the ice arena business? Let's break this down. The ice arena and land represents a valuable asset; put it up for sale with the condition it becomes a privately held ice arena. Results: the city will get a big capital bump, the city no longer has to spend budget resources to manage the arena, the city no longer needs to worry about an unknown capital expenditure for the arena and the city can now collect property tax revenue on the site. And, that $900,000 spend would still be sitting there to meet its legislative requirement for a benefit to the community.
Next, winter Alpine activities at Howelson Hill. The cost is over $1 million to operate, and it is a money loser. This does not take into account the unknown capital improvements, like a recently discussed $20 million new chairlift, along with stabilizing the earth. The winter Alpine operation benefits a very select few.
I'd love to see a 10-year financial analysis of what it would look like if the city got out of the ice arena business and Alpine ski business. Let's simply see the numbers, then have an objective conversation.
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The good news, decisions can be made at the local level. But what worries me is the self-interest and entitlement attitude around spending other people's money. It is completely irresponsible to make your spending and entitlement behavior a burden to others, especially ahead of the the day-to-day expenses for city essentials. It’s time to get a grip.