Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Letter: City's price increases hurt local business

Philip Dixon wrote to let us know that the City's pricejacking of regular public events has cost us another one, this time the Contradance Festival, moved to Cottonwood. Responding to what could be read as skepticism in the comments, Warren Miller specified that the City fee for using the Armory had jumped sevenfold year-on-year, forcing the move.
     What my friend Warren didn't cover is why the City has jacked up use fees, not just at the Armory but at the Elks Theatre, at Watson Lake Park and other public facilities as well.
     During the tenure of Steve Norwood as city manager, the City moved increasingly toward the idea that City services should be individually revenue-neutral to the extent possible. Facilities and services that had traditionally been parts of the large basket of City responsibilities came to be seen as separate business enterprises and evaluated based on their narrow cash-in-cash-out balance sheets.
     Those services that cannot bring in cash — things like police, streets and City bureaucracy — have been arbitrarily exempted from this policy as "essential" services, creating a value distinction that pushes Council to lean more heavily on "nonessential" services to "pay their own way."
     Our once vibrant Parks and Recreation Department has been largely gutted. Now we're hearing rumblings about cutting the Library loose, and it seems that our City leaders will not be satisfied until everything that the voters of Prescott have built for quality of life in the past hundred years is privatized or vanished.
     The core purpose of incorporating a municipality is to create a means for a community to work together to ensure security and improve quality of life for all. Obviously the direct use of these services will vary from person to person (including police, fire and streets, of course), but the value they bring is to the community as a whole, not just in individual enjoyment, but in economic vitality as well. Our elected leaders should be looking at the big picture here, and worrying that we're being pennywise and desperately pound-foolish.
      A government, however local, is not anything like a profitmaking business, and cannot be run in the same way. If as a municipal official you find that your budget is not balancing, you can't just throw services over the side willy-nilly. Every one of those services was approved by the community as necessary enough to institute, and complex webs of dependencies build around them linking individuals, businesses, nonprofits and public agencies. I'm not saying you can't cut, but the first thing you have to do is seek the community's input on the continuing need for the service, whether there is majority support for it and, vitally, for paying for it collectively.
      Our problem statewide is that there's a new religion-like moralism holding that community action through taxation is bad across the board and must be eliminated. That attitude leads inevitably to fragmentation and an everyone-for-hermself attitude, chipping away at the bedrock of community. I don't care what your political perspective, I guarantee you really don't want to live like that.

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