No such thing as bad press

Context?

There is a saying “There’s no such thing as bad press.”   It depends on who you talk to whether they believe that.  My guess is the British Petroleum (BP) folks aren’t buying it.  Probably the people at Weber Shandwick, the public relations firm for Obamacare, are not fond of the critical press.   Paula Deen and Chris Christie probably do not like the negative media attention either.    

Post Independent Front Page smallerWhile I wouldn’t call Michael Bennett’s OP/ED piece in the January 29, 2014 Glenwood Post Independent “bad press,” but it gave me pause to think that I might have taken his quote out of context, so I went back to double check.   To take something out of context essentially means to remove it from the surrounding context – misrepresenting the intent.   In looking back at the article – which is all I have, and the fact that the OP/ED was about the Grand Avenue Bridge and a bypass – it does not seem out of context to me.  However, I could be wrong.  I will give you the first two paragraphs of Bennett’s column and a link to go back and re-read the articles if you choose.

“Located in the heart of downtown Glenwood Springs, we are always trying to provide     access to different views. The Grand Avenue bridge controversy is a hot button for many. Wondering out loud, how many people really care?

Coming across the bridge with an 18-wheeler next to you can be a harrowing experience. My guess is that the vast majority of drivers just want to get through our town as quickly as possible. What a shame those people don’t have a bypass”

‘Nuff said.

HandshakeThe bottom line is I am very grateful to Mike and Drew Munro for printing the article.  The fact that section was not edited out – which they certainly could have done – shows journalistic ethics and integrity.  I am looking forward to writing some additional “commentaries” for the PI.  Here’s to a long-term partnership with both Mike and Drew to make Glenwood Springs the very best it can be.

Links to the Post Independent :

January 14 OP/ED by Mike Bennett:  http://www.postindependent.com/news/9748549-113/downtown-bridge-bypass-avenue

January 22 Commentary by Kathy Trauger:  http://www.postindependent.com/opinion/9866586-113/glenwood-avenue-char-grand

January 28 OP/ED by Mike Bennett: http://www.postindependent.com/opinion/9952293-113/business-column-context-kathy

 

Glenwood 2014 Budget = Priorities?

You have heard the idiom, “Put your money where your mouth is.” The Free Dictionary clarifies the idiom as “to support something that you believe in, especially by giving money.”  The City of Glenwood Springs 2014 budget has done just that. 

The 2014 adopted budget has been posted on the city’s web site. City_of_GWS_Logo City Council adopted this budget on November 7, 2013 and appropriated funds at their December 5, 2013 City council meeting.  Budgets and financials are generally dry, uninteresting reading to most, but it is a reflection of the city’s priorities, and as such, is worth at least an overview by the citizens.  

Tax supported funds are:

General Fund

Street Tax Fund– received from a one-half percent (1/2%) sales tax on transportation related projects and programs

Capital Projects Fund–received from a one-half percent (1/2%) sales tax

Bus Tax Fund– received from a two-tenths percent (2/10%) tax for operation of Ride Glenwood

Acquisitions and Improvements Fund (A&I) – –received from a one percent (1%) sales tax

Tourism Promotion Fund–– received from a two and a half percent (2 ½%) rent tax on accommodations. Expenses are restricted to tourism promotion

 

The General Fund – the fund containing most of the City’s operating expenses –  currently has a budgeted shortfall of $894,552. According to City Manager Jeff Hecksel’s budget message this is due primarily to:

  •  Increase in budgeted expenses of $604,302
  •  Mineral Lease revenue declined  $46,762
  •  Severance Tax receipts declined $189,737
  •  Voters passed the Fire Levy last November which increased property tax revenue by $267,062.
  • Sales tax receipts from 2012 were 14% less than actual receipts for 2008
  • For 2014 Sales tax revenue is budgeted at 2% over amounts budgeted for 2013

 

Budget_Pie_Chart_-_All_Funds 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the General Fund the following are budgeted for various functions:

  • General Government (Admin, HR, City Clerk, Elections, Finance, Data Processing, Legal, Judicial, Annexation – $3,303,470
  • Public Safety (Police & Fire)  $3,223,191
  • Community Development (Planning, Building Inspection) $670,313
  • Public Works (Engineering, Streets & Alleys)  $1,454,780
  • Parks and Recreation (Parks & Cemetery Maintenance & Recreation Programs) $3,191,978 

The Street Tax Fund, intended to maintain pedestrian and vehicular facilities as well as plan, design and construct new infrastructure has a budgeted deficit of $122,091. Budgeted projects include:

  • Street reconstruction associated with water line replacement at 29th and Sopris and Vista Drive
  • Continued work on South Bridge
  • Three Mile Creek Pedestrian Bridge $250,000
  • South Midland Engineering Scoping $100,000
  • Sunlight Bridge Repair $600,000
  • City-wide Transportation Plan Update $105,000

 

The Capital Projects Fund is used for major infrastructure projects and supports the special work activity team.

  • 8th Street Construction $1,000,000
  • Transfer to Water/Sewer Fund for debt coverage $800,000

 

The A&I Fund is used to defray the cost of acquisition, construction, installation and improvement and equipment of capital improvements.  There are three large projects budgeted for this year:

  • Maintenance Facility (MOC) repairs $600,000
  • Community Center Ice Rink Locker Rooms $750,000
  • Whitewater Park/RICD $300,000

 This is a very brief highlight of a 119 page document.  It is important to note that the City will not have preliminary actual figures for 2013 until March.  The official numbers will not be available until the audit reports are made available, generally in June. 

I would encourage you to look at the budget document available at http://cogs.us/budget/2014Budget.pdf   If you have questions, Mike Harman, the City’s Finance Director, is quite willing to answer them.  His email is mike.harman@cogs.us  

Tell me what you think.  Based on the budget, are the city’s priorities where they should be?  If not, what should be different?

 

Is Glenwood Springs A “Strong Town”?

Is Glenwood Springs a “Strong Town?”  Join Charles Marohn  from Strong Towns on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 6 p.m. at the Glenwood Springs Community Center to find out. It is FREE and open to the public.

Chuck Marohn, a professional engineer, is the President and Co-Founder of Strong Towns http://www.strongtowns.org/, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to “support a model for growth that allows America’s towns to become finamarohn6c7d87ncially strong and resilient.”  Strong Towns defines a “strong town” as a one that:

  • Must be near-term financially solvent
  • Must have a tax base and resources to cover long-term financial commitments
  • Must have sufficient age diversity so that population will be added at a rate greater than population is being lost
  • Must have sufficient economic diversity and vibrancy so that businesses are being added at a rate greater than or equal to the rate they are being lost.
  • Must have the courage and leadership to plan for long-term viability

From what I understand, the Strong Town concept places great emphasis on financial stability.  A strong town, as the web site states, must balance short term spending with long term savings and financial commitments.  So where does that leave Glenwood? Based on the preliminary budget the City of Glenwood Springs is facing a $999,247 shortfall in the 2014 General Fund.  Those numbers may have changed based on the November election results.  Unfortunately, the revised approved budget will not be available on the City of Glenwood Springs website until sometime next week, according to Finance Director Mike Harman.   The General Fund contains the majority of the operational cost for the city.  

According to City Manager Jeff Hecksel’s 2014 Budget Message memo to City Council in the preliminary budget work session, anticipated expenses, not including transfers, have increased 1.7% in the General Fund.  However, property taxes have declined by $93,445, mineral lease revenue has declined by $46,762, severance tax receipt declined by $189,737 and actual sales tax for 2012 was 14% less than receipts for 2008. 

Preliminary numbers for 2013 will probably not be available until at least mid February.  According to an article in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, http://www.postindependent.com/news/9680332-113/percent-sales-november-retail retail sales were up 2% through November, with the city collecting more than 12.8 million in sales tax through November.  banner_STorg_935-revised3

Another aspect of a strong town, according to Marohn and Strong Towns, is the ability to sustain its population.  The website asks the question, “When looking a generation to the future, is your town positions to grow leaders from within the community or will tomorrow’s leaders need to be imported?  Groups like the Sonoran Institute and Roaring Fork Leadership are helping to broaden that leadership base.  

Strong Towns also talks about a diverse economy, which is also a critical element of the city’s 2011 Comprehensive Plan.  Glenwood Springs has strongly relied on a tourism based economy, which has provided a consistent, fairly stable financial foundation, even through recessions.  Additionally, Glenwood remains a hub for government, healthcare and education. However, further diversification would be a benefit.   Strong Towns inquires, “Does your town allow for creative destruction, where non-competitive businesses are allowed to fail in a competitive free market?” 

Strong Towns questions whether our town has a long-term plan for success and whether community leaders understand and embrace the plan.  Marohn queries whether the members of the town engage in planning the community in a “broad and comprehensive way.”  What do you think?  Do you think that Glenwood Springs has a long-term plan for success? How does it, or does it relate to the Comprehensive Plan?   Do you know what the city’s goals are for 2014?  How well are our leaders engaged in the planning process and how could we improve?

I would encourage everyone who has an interest in their community to make an effort to attend this event sponsored by the Sonoran Institute http://www.sonoraninstitute.org/ and Healthy Mountain Communities http://www.hmcnews.org/ and the City of Glenwood Springs http://cogs.us/  Many thanks to these folks for bringing Strong Towns to Glenwood Springs!! 

And just a reminder that it is FREE and open to the public

 

 

 

 

 

 

With Public Sentiment, Nothing Can Fail

Lincoln“In this and like communities, public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently he who moulds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.”

Abraham Lincoln

Many decisions are not easy. Challenging decisions, where there are no clear-cut answers are particularly troublesome.  For City Council, whose decisions will affect the citizens of Glenwood Springs for years, these decisions weigh very heavily.  I have heard it said by those in this community that this Council does not listen to the citizens of Glenwood Springs.   I believe the events within council chambers tonight might make at least a few people think otherwise.

The above Lincoln quote was from the Lincoln-Douglas Debate of 1858 and it has certainly held true this evening.  Public sentiment has been building for an elevator option only for the Grand Avenue Pedestrian Bridge, which, once again was evidenced by the citizens who addressed Council this evening.

While there are indeed benefits to having a ramp included in the design, the overwhelming public sentiment was that, at this time, given these circumstances, an elevator would be the best choice for Glenwood Springs for now and into the future. 

double elevator from 7th & Cooper

Not everyone was in agreement.  As Jeremy Hyman pointed out, Jim Charlier of Charlier & Associates, who presented a white paper to City Council analyzing the costs and benefits, had once stated that Glenwood needs to be at the forefront of the bicycle tourism movement due to the world class biking we have available.  That means convenient access to downtown and a good connection with the bike paths and routes in the area. He did not think that could be met with an elevator only option.                 

However, many, including Leslie Bethel, Charlie Willman, Dean Gordon, Bob Patillo, David Hauter, Steve Carver, and others spoke of the vision for Glenwood. That vision does not include a ramp.  We were reminded that the citizens of Glenwood, among them Floyd Diemoz, who also spoke this evening, were not content with the original vision of Glenwood Canyon and said, “we can do better” and “better” ended up with a truly world famous design that moves vehicles through our canyon without destroying it.

The citizens of Glenwood Springs are a tough group with extremely high standards and expectations.  And, in this case, City Council listened.  There were many on council who, in the beginning, staunchly favored a ramp.  To paraphrase Councilman Stephen Bershenyi, it is sometime hard to see past what is already in place to vision what could be. 

http___www.coloradodot.info_projects_sh82grandavenuebridge_assets_PedRampElevatorCityCouncilPacketDecember192013

The ongoing operational costs were a sticking point for both Mayor Leo McKinney and Councilman Matt Steckler.  “How are we going to pay for this?” was an issue raised by Mayor McKinney.  That argument is absolutely valid.  The city is facing a deficit in the 2014 budget.  However, as Councilman Michael Gamba pointed out, this is not a cost that will be incurred tomorrow.  The City has some time to figure out the best funding mechanism, which could include lease payments from the planned improvements along the north side of 7th Street to allow those restaurants to have outdoor dining, from street vendors along the pedestrian bridge or other sources. 

Councilman Ted Edmonds pointed out that not only do we need to look at the potential costs the city will incur, but also the potential for enhanced revenue from an superior experience that both tourists and locals will have. 

Usually the one listening and taking notes, I found it impossible not to add my two cents into the discussion this evening.  As I mentioned to Council, I can – and have – argued both sides of this argument.  I think being fiscally responsible is critical.  However, in this case, the ongoing costs, even at the highest estimate, were less than I thought they might be.   In this case, the vision, and the aspirations I have for Glenwood weighed more heavily than the potential ongoing cost.  Like many others, I asked Council to consider the option proposed for two elevators with a backup generator.

So what were my reasons?  I think it best meets the intent of the Comprehensive Plan adopted by the City in 2011 as well as providing reasonable ADA access. The Comp Plan specifically stated that a goal was to “ensure an attractive community.”  As Mr. Hyman and Mayor McKinney noted we need to continue to build interconnectivity and promote multimodal transportation.  However, I don’t see the elevator option as excluding that.  Additionally, there is ongoing discussion about ways to enhance the connectivity with the Rio Grande Trail and the Glenwood Canyon bike path.

So, yes, like several Council members, I have come full circle on this item after sifting through  a lot of information and listening to the “public sentiment.”  Council voted, by a five to two vote, to move forward with a recommendation for a double elevator with a backup generator. Councilor Stecker and Mayor McKinney cast the dissenting votes.

As Ms. Bethel stated, Glenwood Springs is at the cusp of some very exciting things happening.  It is time to take Glenwood Springs from a really “cool” town into a world-class resort community.  Now is not the time to cut corners. Now is the time to have the vision for what Glenwood “could” be as our business and civic leaders did years ago with Glenwood Canyon.  And public . . . are you listening?  Public sentiment and public involvement DOES matter.  “With public sentiment, nothing can fail!”