Postponing inevitable is what got us to where we are now

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In the event that Colorado Springs voters fail to approve a proposed mill levy increase during the Nov. 3 election, the city will have to make many painful choices.

Will council implement furloughs and layoffs, close the Pioneers Museum and city recreation centers, and put the city park system on “life support”?

We don’t know.

But it seems obvious that some of the pain might have been avoided had our elected representatives dealt with the crisis earlier.

In these difficult economic times, many of us have had to reduce expenses. That process often starts with the realization that no, we shouldn’t have treated ourselves to that weekend in Las Vegas last spring, and yes, we should have upped our contribution to our 401(k) last year instead of buying that new car.

The shouldas/wouldas are always clear in retrospect, but not so easy at the time.

We needed that vacation, right? And the old clunker might have broken down any moment, right?

We’ve all been guilty of heedless, self-indulgent behavior from time to time. It’s understandable for individuals, but less so for elected officials.

There’s a reason that city voters have chosen to limit the compensation of mayor and council to a small annual stipend. It’s not because Springs residents have a deep-seated antipathy toward politicians, but because they believe that uncompensated officials are more likely to make disinterested decisions.

An annual salary of $6,250 will not motivate anyone to compromise his or her ideals to stay in office, or curry favor with any particular voting bloc.

But unlike their notably well-compensated counterparts on the El Paso County Commission, City Council members have postponed many difficult decisions, hoping that the economy would improve and sales tax collections would rebound.

That delay has made the inevitable cuts deeper and more painful. For businesses and individuals, the time to stop spending on the credit card is when hard times seem likely, not when they’ve arrived.

County commissioners were roundly criticized for ruthless budget cutting last year. They understood what many of us failed to realize at the time — that the economy might continue to stagnate, and that tax collections might not improve for some time.

The city’s failure to follow suit has worsened an already difficult situation. Council’s inaction has given a spurious credibility to Douglas Bruce and his followers.

It has heightened the community mistrust and suspicion that arose during the city’s comic-opera bungling of the U.S. Olympic Committee headquarters deal.

Should issue 2C fail, city leaders should not dismiss the voters’ verdict as that of an ignorant, malicious and irrational electorate. Fault or blame is not at issue. What we have here, as Cool Hand Luke said, is a failure to communicate.

Mayor Lionel Rivera and City Council members might start by announcing a new policy of openness, inclusion and accessibility. But just announcing isn’t enough. Like any reforming addict, they’ll have to admit error, apologize to those whom their actions have damaged and swear off secrecy, obfuscation and delay.

That’d be a good start. But given our experience during the last two years, we’re not holding our breath.