Life is unfair.
And it’s probably unfair that, as the city announces a projected budget shortfall of more than $37 million, many of us are questioning the city’s basic competence.
How did they get themselves in such a fix? What’s to be done? Are they just trying to scare us?
Decades ago, whenever the National Park Service’s budget was threatened with cuts, bureaucrats had a simple, clever strategy for dealing with congressional watchdogs.
First, they’d quietly inform wavering committee members that the proposed cuts would force them to close popular facilities in their home states. And if that didn’t do the trick, they’d gin up a new budget which would call for closing the Washington Monument.
Members of congress realized that the Park Service would never make good on its threats — but they concluded that the stakes were too high to fight the political equivalent of nuclear war.
Some of City Manager Penny Culbreth-Graft’s proposed budget cuts, if implemented, would inflict deep and possibly permanent wounds upon the city.
The Pioneers’ Museum would close — perhaps forever. Municipal pools would be closed and abandoned. City parks would become supersized vacant lots — unwatered, untended and weed-choked. Flower beds would disappear. Scores of employees would lose their jobs.
It’s hard not to think about these proposals as ploys, dark threats which we need not take seriously.
Closing the museum? Abandoning the park system?
Such actions would not only anger and alienate most city residents, but also would have a disastrous impact upon economic development.
What business would move to such a city? Who would want to stay in such a city?
Councilmembers are stewards of the city, not feckless heirs free to squander the treasure of generations past.
We have long believed that the city’s revenue streams are structurally inadequate, and that the mini-Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights section of the City Charter is unreasonably restrictive.
We’re glad to note that councilmembers have tentatively agreed to remove many long-standing sales tax exemptions, which should bring in another $10 million annually.
But overcoming such a massive deficit might call for an agonizing reappraisal of the whole city enterprise.
That might mean re-focusing public safety operations and having the courage to question the hitherto untouchable budgets of the police and fire departments.
That means adopting El Paso County’s policy of collecting use tax on construction materials when the permit is pulled, and not trusting in the “honor system.”
It also means transferring expenses, wherever possible, to more appropriate entities.
Utilities ought to assume responsibility for streetlights, and the city ought to withdraw from the transit business and let the PPRTA take over the bus system.
Most of all, it means realizing that, to its residents, the essential city is not defined by motorcycle cops, mass DUI checkpoints, city regulatory agencies, parking tickets and filled potholes.
The city that we all cherish is that of parks, open space, the Pioneers’ Museum, the White House Ranch and flower-filled medians. That is the city which must be preserved and cherished, and passed on. n CSBJ