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?

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