Broken city

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Funds shortfall slams Colorado Springs; is NM next?

By Harold Morgan

Colorado Springs is broke.

A friend, driving in Colorado Springs recently, hit a pothole and did $400 in damage to her car. “They’re not fixing the streets!” my friend says angrily.

It’s just possible my friend was going a tad too fast, perhaps operating on previously true assumptions of flat street surfaces. Certainly, going less fast is one short-term means of dealing with potholes.

The Colorado Springs situation raises questions about the proper role of government.

The city is a libertarian and tea party bastion. A Republican receiving less than 60 percent of the vote is considered to have lost. A July 4 Denver Post report said, “There is the residents’ difficult relationship with taxation. In short, they don’t like it and reject it whenever possible.”

Some months ago Colorado Springs rejected a tax increase to cover what the Post called “routine services.”

For the just-completed budget year, revenues were down $16 million and pension and health costs up

$8 million.

Colorado Springs’ 4.279 mill property tax rate is one-sixth that of Denver, land of Lo-Do, the Broncos, Rockies baseball, architecturally aggressive museums and a botanic garden temporarily full of Henry Moore sculptures.

From the Springs, we gain a possible insight about why Hewlett Packard closed a facility there and moved part of the work to Rio Rancho. I wonder if corporately smart and successful HP might have seen the train wreck coming.  

We learn from the Springs that if taxes are low, government does less. But to state the obvious, when revenue falls, the government does even less.

In Colorado Springs, that means laying off cops and firefighters by attrition, turning off street lights, closing some swimming pools, parks and community centers and apparently taking a laissez faire attitude about potholes.

Citizens fill some gaps, volunteering time and money for the occasional park or pool and even sending money to the city, a sort of voluntary tax increase.

The Post story misses a point in saying the issue is the relationship with taxation.

The other side of that coin is Springs residents’ attitude about government activity.

While the story contained an understated glee with regard to Colorado Springs being hoisted by its own libertarian petard, Springs residents might desire more government than they want to admit.

Consider streets. While streets in business areas certainly should be repaired, what about residential areas? What about community centers, libraries, park, etc? What is essential?

Albuquerque government expansion continues in the face of Mayor Richard Berry’s proposed salary cuts.

My neighborhood association newsletter offers this social engineering gem: A Department of Senior Affairs staffer “is interested in developing elder friendly communities where neighbors help to improve the quality of life for seniors in the neighborhoods. (At a coming meeting) she will present strategies and senior services for neighbors.”

State government continues the solid professionalism of the Richardson administration.

My recent discoveries start with the I-25 rest stop at the top of La Bajada Hill. It offers The Next Big Thing — a lidless toilet, complete with a large sign explaining, for those who find it just too weird, the beauty of the concept.

In the same vein, at the I-25 rest stop 27 (or so) miles north of Las Vegas, the wood at the bottom of the posts supporting the roof over the entrance was severely rotted, evidence of years of neglect.

The deterioration spurs the image of government falling. If the roof falls, the rest stop will close. We do not actually “need” this rest stop.

We have gotten along without it before, for years at a time. I know from passing by.

There are lots of other government things we don’t need.

Just look around.