What do you expect from your city govt?
What does Glenwood need? Does Glenwood need more police protection? Does South Midland Avenue need repairs? How about new connections to help alleviate some of the traffic on Grand Avenue — perhaps like South Bridge, an Eighth Street connection or extending Blake to Wal-Mart? How should Glenwood Springs cover the operational deficit of the Community Center? Would a better, more interactive city website help you find information you need or make connecting with needed services easier? Will landfill rates need to be adjusted to cover the operating loss of the landfill? How can we make the city’s electric fund viable in the wake of rising wholesale costs? Have rising health insurance costs impacted the services the city provides?
Where do your expectations collide with what the city of Glenwood is able to provide?
By the time this column is in print, Glenwood Springs City Council will have held the first of several work sessions to discuss the proposed 2015 budget. Essentially, a work session gives council members a chance to review and discuss the budget, page-by-page. This is good. It gives council a chance to get needed information, ask questions and get a feel for the views of other council members. It does not allow for citizen interaction. As Mayor Leo McKinney stated in a recent email on the subject, “The public can make comments on the budget to the council only when we have it on the formal agenda, not during the work sessions.” Nevertheless, attending work sessions provides necessary information.
Does it matter?
City services like police and fire, water, sewer, electric, streets are things that impact each and every citizen on a daily basis. Whether it is the pothole that keeps growing on your street, the extra dollars it takes to take a load of trash to the landfill or the extra minutes it takes for a police officer to respond to a call across town — these things matter. And they matter a lot!
How can you be informed and involved?
First, review the proposed budget. The draft budget was available as part of the published city council packet at http://cogs.us/Packet/2015-Budget-Preliminary.pdf. I hope that it becomes an easy to find link on the city’s home page. If you have questions, be sure you ask. Municipal budgets are different from your home budget or that of a business, so there are no dumb questions. Send an email to your council representative or to one of the at-large representatives with your questions or comments.
Second, attend the work sessions and City Council meetings. The schedule is generally posted on the website. If you cannot attend, the local TV station generally broadcasts important work sessions and all council meetings. These can be accessed via the city’s website.
I will readily admit that I don’t like the way Glenwood Springs handles the budget process. My comments are not directed toward the city’s finance department, who are most helpful. It is a personal critique of the process that has been in place for a number of years. I may be wrong in my interpretation, and I welcome any corrections, but this is how I see the process. This is based on personal experience as Deputy City Clerk a number of years ago as well as current participation on several boards and commissions.
1. Lack of collaborative strategic planning. Some years there are goal-setting sessions involving top department managers, administration and council. I understand that all decisions should not be made by “group think,” but it is important that elected officials have the opportunity to clearly convey their goals to all levels including administration, department heads, staff, and the appointed city boards and commissions and, in turn, hear their ideas. This ensures that all are working together toward the same vision.
2. Lack of transparency. Do you know what the goals of the city administration and council are for the next year? Do they have a vision? How can you find out? Talk with your council representatives, who are very willing to have those conversations. However, as far as I know, there is nothing in writing that clearly states what council and administration plan to focus on for the coming year. The budget is one window that shows their intention, but should citizens have to guess or read a 100-plus page document to find out?
3. Lack of opportunity for public participation. By the time the public is allowed to openly comment, the budget has been reviewed and discussed by council, albeit in an open meeting. However, by the time city council takes public comment in a meeting the budget has been tweaked and is nearly ready for adoption. Should some other options be explored?
4. Lack of incentive for creative, efficient thinking. It appears that budgets are based on historical information and an anticipated increase or decrease in revenue. Although it appears the city runs smoothly, routine examination of current processes and activities in conjunction with the budget process to make the best use of resources available would be wise.
As James Madison said, “The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.”
Kathy Trauger is a Glenwood Springs resident and writer who blogs about Glenwood Springs at http://www.ourtownglenwoodsprings.com.
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