Tom Patton: The City Council Got It Right on All Three Counts
Back in the day, when I was hosting “Week in Review” (which every time I do a personal appearance somewhere I’m still told by someone it was the best show on local television), this was the kind of week we dreamed of. The show would practically write itself. There was the city council meeting Tuesday, in which Dr. Parvez Ahmed was finally approved for a spot on the Human Rights Commission, the council voted to extend Waste Managements’ contract at the Trail Ridge landfill, AND voted to increase the city’s garbage fees.
Add in Charlie Crist jumping the GOP… and that was my show right there.
I say all that to say that it was a very busy week.
The council made the right decisions on all three issues Tuesday. The controversy surrounding Dr. Ahmed should never have happened. By all accounts, he was very qualified for the position on the Human Rights Commission, and the questioning from some members of the council was, frankly, embarrassing. I’ve not yet talked to anyone who agreed with the treatment he received from some of the members. But when it came to the vote, the council put aside the contrived controversy and approved him for the Human Rights Commission. It was absolutely the right decision.
On the fees, nobody wants to vote to raise fees. Particularly not with an election coming … well … sometime next year. But the numbers on the budget just don’t add up without some kind of revenue enhancement. I know that’s not the most popular position among conservatives, but looking pragmatically at the budget there aren’t a lot of other conclusions one could reach. In the budget workshops, the number of items that are identified by the participants as “Must have” and “Should Have” far outweigh the “Nice to Have” and “Don’t Want.” So, if people want to have city government doing all those things, and there’s not currently enough money to do them, well it has to come from somewhere.
There undoubtedly will be further cuts in the city budget. And yes, people’s individual budget are already strained. A fee hike will be difficult to absorb. But I have lived a lot of places, from the Midwest to the west coast to the Washington, DC, and I’ve never not paid a fee for the privilege of having someone come to my house once or twice a week and haul away the trash. In a couple of those places, I actually had to make my own contract with one of several companies that provided that service in the town. And now, living at the beach, we pay fees for trash hauling. The trash isn’t going to get up and walk away on its own, and whatever the fee, within reason, it’s probably better than letting it pile up at your house, or putting it in the back of your car and taking it to the landfill on your own. If that were the case, you know that some enterprising entrepreneur would quickly buy a truck and offer to do that for you … for a fee.
On the topic of the landfill, the council also made the right decision to extend the contract with Waste Management to operate the Trail Ridge landfill. In most cases, competitive bidding is a preferable way to do business, but this may have been the exception that proves the rule. The majority of the council determined that the city was on firm legal footing with the contract extension, and that it would provide some savings at a time when there is a nearly $60 million budget hole to be filled. Over the life of the contract, it will ultimately cost $37 million more than the deal originally proposed by the mayor last year. It was one of those issues on which good people could reasonably disagree, and there are still legal questions to be answered, but overall, the council got it right.
Nothing is ever black and white, and sometimes the decisions are difficult, even when they shouldn’t be. In the case of these three votes Tuesday, the council made the correct choices.