The Fine Line between Well-funded and Silver-Plated City Government

Jul 26, 2016 | Uncategorized

I want to return once again to the theme of funding for our local city government and its 2-year budgeting process, which is now underway.

At the outset, understand where the Chamber is coming from relative to local government:

  • The community is fortunate to have clean, well-led, well-run local government. Many places are not so lucky.
  • The Chamber supports properly funded local government. The business community wants good basic services like good streets and properly staffed police and fire departments. And non-basic extras enhance the community’s quality of life. Again, just look at the struggles of many other communities and count our blessings.
  • The Chamber expects good governance and good decision-making.

In summary, while we wrangle over some issues, our local government does a good job.

Sometimes, however, we may have more government than we need. And, occasionally, agenda-pushing threatens to swamp good decision-making.

On the first point, there’s a story in today’s Coloradoan about the Council reserving a place on the fall ballot because they may need to bring forward a measure to ask voters about what to do with excess money from a 2010 tax measure. At that time, the City Council crafted a ballot measure asking voters to approve a temporary 10-year sales tax.

At the time, research by the Chamber indicated that the city’s sale tax level was lower than many other Colorado communities and programs like police services were under-funded. We believed ½ cent was warranted. The Council started at a full penny and compromised down to ‘only’ .85 percent. We said that it was not warranted and stated that anticipated revenue projections were too low. In the end, with some reluctance, we opposed the Keep Fort Collins Great tax ‘passively,’ meaning that we did not actively work against its passage. This is a ‘we-told-you-so’ moment.

You might ask ‘If you actually believe in properly funded government like you stated above, what’s the big deal?’ The big deal is that more funding means more staff which means more people to get through to get something done. In theory more staff should make things move faster, but it still takes 18 months for many development projects to work through the various approval baffles. The line between well-funded local government and silver-plated local government may be the difference between .50 percent and .85 percent.

Regarding the city budgeting process, as I wrote recently on two occasions (here and here), there are city staffers, community activists and some Council members that want to dramatically increase city government spending for climate action. To that end numerous proposals are being teed up. My point has been to express our expectation that policy-setters and budgeteers apply some hard questions and strict criteria on themselves as they sort through the flood of proposals. Letting a group of external and internal advocates bulk up the city budget with programs that are fuzzy on expected outcomes or can’t show savings in a reasonable period of time could undermine the City’s good standing with residents.

We have good local government, and I have faith in its leaders to make measured, balanced, and reasonable decisions.