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Colorado Springs: The entitlement city

Mon, Jan 25, 2010

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Remember the “6035” project? Remember “Dream City”? And whatever happened to those hundreds of fresh-faced community leaders that the Colorado Springs Leadership Institute has trained, graduated and sent on their way during the last decade?

I have good news for you! Dream City is alive, sort of, kept on life support by the occasional article in the Gazette. 6035 is apparently hibernating, ready to stun the world by announcing that they’ve hired someone to … well, implement some very important recommendations that will vastly improve our spiritless little burg. And as for all those leaders, they’re sooo ready to lead, and they’re especially willing to serve on committees that will consider important issues and produce important reports which will make important recommendations to which most of us will pay no attention.

That’s why there were more than 60 applicants to fill six seats on a city advisory committee which will consider the “ownership structure” of Memorial Health System. Presumably, the committee will meet, gather data, hear from the various players, and summarize its findings in carefully parsed bureaucratese.

The report will then become a part of our ongoing and historically futile debate over whether Memorial ought to remain in public ownership or sold to the highest bidder.

Advocates of selling the hospital system believe that the city has no reason to be in the health care business, or in any other business for that matter, and that such ownership confers few benefits upon city residents. They claim that a sale might net hundreds of millions for the city, and yet have little effect upon Memorial’s ability to provide care.

That’s debatable.

In health care, as in government, business and private life you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Any private entity buying the hospital will see an immediate increase in fixed costs, as the new owners are forced to refinance all of the hospital’s debt at higher rates. Being capitalists, they’ll want a return on their investment – and that can only be realized by raising prices and reducing uncompensated care. And who will pay the bills? That would be us.

But the argument over Memorial will go on, and will serve as one of many issues that distract us, and our hundreds – nay thousands! – of leaders from dealing with our city’s core dilemma, that being …

We love our entitlements! In common with welfare recipients before 1996, UAW members before the collapse of the domestic automobile industry, subprime loan recipients, and Wall Street bankers, we think that we can get something for nothing.

We want a prosperous, vibrant city, a spacious park system, a vital downtown, and an efficient, smoothly functioning city government – but we think that someone else should pay for these things. Our city council was so sure that we wouldn’t fund even essential governmental functions that they backdoored a stormwater fee in a futile attempt to outsmart the tightwad taxpayers.

Absent divine intervention, most city community centers and Rock Ledge Ranch will close in a few weeks. And unless our timid city council forces Colorado Springs Utilities to provide water at greatly reduced rates, our once-verdant city parks will be withered and sere.

Absent an aggressively funded Economic Development Corporation, we’ll fall farther and farther behind our peer cities, as the jobs and companies that would once have come to Colorado Springs are lured to Albuquerque, Omaha, Des Moines, Fort Collins…and even Pueblo!

Absent a focused community effort to diversify our economy and rebuild Downtown, South Nevada, South Academy, and the West Side, we’ll continue our slow decline.

The city doesn’t need leadership – it needs followership. A handful of sincere would-be leaders cannot easily reverse decades of Bruceite propaganda, which has led people to believe that taxes can always be lower, the government always has plenty of money, and that most politicians are lying weasels who just want your money.

What this means in practice is that brilliant governance, such as that provided during the last two years by county executive Jeff Green and our five county commissioners is largely unremarked, while the floundering incompetence of city council during the same period is seen as the norm.

Folks, don’t you think that we’ve wasted enough time? Let’s leave Memorial alone, and concentrate on our immediate problems.

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14 Comments For This Post

  1. sharon berthrong Says:

    You are spot on John. I can’t believe these tightwads

  2. Like it'll matter ..... Says:

    …… most politicians ARE lying weasels who just want your money.

  3. Karl Mason Says:

    John,
    I have to agree with you that this town needs to pick its head up out of the current furrow it finds itself in. One question that begs to be asked, does Colorado Springs really want growth? I think that based on the actions of the past it in fact does not. If it isn’t military or government contractor, Colorado Springs doesn’t seem particularly interested. Intel is one example of an opportunity lost.

  4. Joe Says:

    Well said.

  5. Bruce Hutcheon Says:

    We are the community stand to lose the most because we all live and work here by choice.

    Can we not focus on what the President and CEO of the Broadmoor, Stephen Bartolin, Jr. so aptly stated to the city council in his letter a few weeks back? Run our city as a forward thinking, prosperous entity that can be a national leader because we are diversified in commerce and opportunity.

    We can lead the nation in our solutions to community homeless, employment and education with application of fiscal principles and a reduction in waste.

  6. Rick Wehner Says:

    Everybody in office seems to lose track of the sight it is the ‘little-guy’, the taxpayer, who must kick in the funding. Rebuilding trust among this group is JOB ONE, I would think.

    Having Kazmierski report on the ‘positive’ aspects of the local economy and his effort toward same while one column away on the same day in the same newspaper was the report Colorado Springs unemployment rose to 8% leaves people wondering who to believe?

    Just when we thought that the news of the inept manner with which the USOC deal was handled, now we find out that just four blocks apart, the city folk are not talking to the utility folk on who is givng what building and what concession to whom?

    WHO are we to believe?

    Each day there is a new story further eroding trust among the taxpayers who must ultimately fund any programs to rebuild the region to see DreamCity arise from the ashes and project 6035 get anywhere near sea-level!

    What we need is to see what Mr. Bartolin is attempting spread from just the financial aspects of city operations and pay grades,and benefits to overall city management and coordination. A serious professional audit by a credible, outside accounting firm coupled with an HR firm who can provide a true state of affairs to the public.

    Without this type of review, Alfred E Newman is alive and well in The Springs.

  7. Ken G Says:

    COS growth, how about replanting and getting back to basics 101 – run the city and quite haggling and spending money (volunteers or not, it costs time and money) on the hospital. It will not “net millions’ to the city if the organization were sold and it would not provide permanent relief – only more headaches. Remember, Memorial only shows the costs of indigent care, should that be privatized, the city would pay (costs plus profit) for this type of healthcare. Double for sure.
    I’ve only lived here since 1996 and the city innards have only gotten worse. I hear of the EDC bringing 40 new jobs, while Intel moves away, defense contractors staff down and relocate to other cities… We’ve witnessed multiple attempts by the current and previous administration to “do the right” thing and then to do something else unethical or demoralizing to this great city. USOC – let them move away….it’s not worth the “prestige” when we have to cut other services…..
    We have alot to offer and to attract people to stay in our great community…..we’re so inner focused, but accomplish nothing.

    101 – get back to basics…….

  8. Tim O Says:

    What this city needs is true leadership which seems to be lacking these days at all levels of government. We need city leaders who accurately and truthfully present funding problems. We need city leaders who gain respect and trust through their actions. We need city leaders who communicate with the public. “Brucites” are reacting to closed door deals, public lying, kickbacks, constituent disdain, and arrogance. Want followers? Get leaders.

  9. dan Says:

    A lot of what you are saying has merit, however, until the elected officials of this community prove that they can actually run to a budget, I don’t believe they should be given any more money. They will find a way to spend every dime that they receive, and there is consequently nothing available for a rainy day. And the Rainy Day is now.

  10. Karen Breit Says:

    I just happened upon your story. You should come to Wheaton, DuPage County, Illinois. We pay dearly for the best schools, the best snow removal, municipal services, a top-rated library that just had a $20 million – yes, that is $20 million- addition. It’s a great life if you can afford it.

  11. John Hazlehurst Says:

    Lots of great comments! My sense is that we can find a way out of this mess, but not until we have a new Mayor and have largely replaced existing councilmembers come April of 2011. Trust is the issue-and I think that the Steve Bartolin/Chuck Fowler/Sean Paige committee will begin the process of picking up the pieces and figuring out where to go.

    Meanwhile, given that our trust in local government is right up there with a merchant’s trust in a chronic shoplifter (watch his every move and make him pay cash!), I think that we just need a political time-out.

  12. Andrew Says:

    Couldn’t agree more. This Tea Party approach to governance is a joke, and the people that believe in it don’t seem to have any idea of where this line of thinking stops. I don’t know if they’re all anarchists who would rather live in the mountains off the fruits of their own labor, but the idea of a ‘common wealth’ seems completely lost on them.

    I don’t think anyone is saying we all want to pay 50% income taxes, but I have yet to hear people that think TAX is a four-letter word mention A SINGLE tax or tax-funded program they believe in.

    So what makes someone like Doug Bruce run for office rather than just campaign to have the office itself abolished to save the money?

  13. Rick Wehner Says:

    John:

    I think you are correct. A moratorium on comments or public appearances from council members, commissioners, the Chamber or EDC would go a long way in rebuilding trust with the public.

  14. FactFinder Says:

    So how come it’s always the tightwad taxpayer‘s fault and it could never ever could be runaway spending by the government?

    I built a house here two decades ago and I paid for my curbs and gutters. And I paid a “drainage fee.” Those fees were in the thirty thousand dollar range. Then City Council passes an ordinance to pay for curbs and gutters in the recently annexed Broadmoor, and the money for the rich guy’s luxury home comes out of the general fund. That is, I get to pay for their curbs and gutters and my curbs and gutters.

    The CS Utilities uses the drainage fee to expand salaries. And expand salaries. And expand salaries! When the average salary in the Utilities is around one hundred thousand dollars a year, what did you expect the voters to do? Cheer for the screwing??!! Salaries in the school districts have rocketed up, and the quality of our schools are at notoriously low levels.

    Then there’s subsidizing a Broadmoor golf tournament out of the Memorial Hospital budget for $250,000. And nobody goes to jail. John, you are a nice guy, but this column is closer to a fairy tale than reality.