Sunday, March 4, 2012

What Utica can learn from Colorado Springs

I enjoy listening to the varied news and special interest programming on the weekend NPR (91.9 FM). On "This American Life" recently, the City of Colorado Springs, Colorado was highlighted. Talk about financial meltdown! The city was so financially drained it actually had to shut off half of it's street lights!

Located in Colorado Springs is a 5 star diamond rated resort hotel, The Broadmoor. Owned by Steve Bartolin, the hotel was once billed as "The Grand Dame of the Rockies." Concerned that the city surrounding his establishment was in severe crisis, he decided to get involved.

Mr. Bartolin got ahold of a city budget and what he discovered shocked him. The city was spending nearly 80% of its resources on manpower to run the various departments. In his resort, 35% for staffing was the level. "If I ran my business like they run the city,"he was quoted as saying, "I would be closed in a year."

Indeed, the staff of the Broadmoor was actually larger than that of the city! So, Steve got to work. He analyzed the budget and came up with ideas to save money based on his business acumen. He met with other concerned citizens and demanded that the city clean up its act. When the mayor refused, he and his group backed a new candidate who eventually won.

Things did not turn around over night. There was a lot of wrangling over what needed to change. Privatization of city services and union concessions were needed to stabilize finances. When he started, Mr. Bartolin had noticed that the city parks were brown and wilted due to the lack of attention from the city. "The parks are green again', said Bartolin. " We have our city back."

Utica, N.Y. A city in similar crisis.

When are we going to figure it out? The same narrative over and over with the same results. Across the nation, municipalities are on the brink of financial ruin. Some get it. Many others do not.

But we live here. In Utica. And at this point, I am afraid we just do not get it. No real systemic changes are ever discussed. It's always a snip here, a cut there. Get to the bottom line, raise taxes just enough to cover expenses but not enough to cause complete anarchy. Breathe a sigh of relief that we got through it-this time. Go back to business as usual and do it all again next year.

Where is our Steve Bartolin? The public needs leadership-from the PRIVATE sector. Once someone gets elected, it's all over. They become entrenched almost immediately. Eyes glaze over, they join the "Walking Dead" of city government. They borrow our way out of disaster, maintain cozy relationships with the unions and promote a no growth policy.

The public will react. Utica will wake up.

The question is, will it be too late?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Utica-"Condition Critical."

The City of Utica is on life support.  The patient is slipping away. Our leaders scramble to triage a method of treatment but it's not working. Can flatlining be inevitable?
None of the ideas that I shared in my last post were considered. No efficiency studies, no elimination of unnecessary departments (Civil Service being the most needless of all.) Instead, we have a proposed 18% property tax increase and a smattering of cuts designed to bring about temporary relief. No long term systemic solutions. Quick, temporary fixes. Isn't that what got us to where we are in the first place?
Now, we hear that if we cut police and fire, people will DIE. If we cut DPW, services will evaporate. Once again, the narrative begins. And the elected officials entrusted to protect our finances look for ways to keep the unions happy. It never changes.
In spite of it, we, the citizens of Utica, continue to love our city. We hope and pray for the best. It just never seems to happen.
Campaign promises are made. Campaign promises are broken. All of our resources, once a trickle, are now gushing out of the patient, our beloved Utica.
We need a second opinion.
We need expert advice. We cannot entrust our future to the people in city hall any more. There is clearly not the will, desire or expertise to handle the management of our resources.
We need to demand the total re-structuring of all city departments. In a city that spends 66 million dollars a year, there needs to be accountability.
The same goes for the school district.
There is great hope for our future. Check out the Oneida County Visitors Bureau new "Getaway Catalogue." It features Utica, Rome, Verona and Sylvan beach. It clearly demonstrates the unbelievable resources and attractions that make this region special.
And, in spite of that, we have a city on the ropes. Broke. Destitute. Status quo being maintained at all cost.
We need, as a city, as a community, to unite as never before. To demand real change. We need to use social media to promote our cause. To take back city hall. To finally, irrevocably, require our leaders, our EMPLOYEES, to manage our resources wisely, thoughtfully, expertly. And, stop making "deals."
Otherwise, the patient will quietly slip into a coma. And, then pass away.
We don't have a mortician as mayor anymore, thank god. But, who will be there to bury the body?