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Time to make the tough decisions

Dear Editor:

“I did not give it to you. You are taking something that doesn’t belong to you,” Councilman Johnson snarled at Councilman Romero in the Feb. 10 budget work session. His haughty, uncivilized tone was in response to Romero’s “taking” a leadership role in advocating 2009 city budget cuts. Jack, Mayor Mick and City Manager Steve Barwick mightily resisted Romero’s polite insistence that the proposed 2009 budget was still unrealistic, and required more fiscal discipline and a conservative outlook. Council members Skadron and Kasabach had little to say.

Jack and all council members will hopefully recall that the voters “gave” every member of council that responsibility. Dwayne accepted the unpleasant duty, while others either shirked it, or stood passively on the sidelines, happy to procrastinate until “next month’s budget review.”



Despite Romero’s bi-weekly warnings since September meetings, the general response has been denial and foot-dragging. As recently as Nov. 24, council adopted the 2009 budget with a 7 percent increase in operating expenses and flat revenues, excusing themselves from reality by saying “we will revise it in the future.”

The decision was to adopt a wildly unrealistic budget which now serves as the inflated benchmark from which to measure. (Like stepping on the scales after a big lunch with a full Camelbak and your ski boots to start tracking your weight on a new diet.) While the budget was revised downward Tuesday, the assumptions of only 11 percent decline in revenues seem far too optimistic.




Under pressure for more cuts, Barwick asked for two more months to “see what happens” in the economy before initiating layoffs, or bonus reductions, or significant planning project cuts!

In late October, as Romero requested a 2009 contingency plan for a 25 percent revenue decline be prepared by early December, Johnson was saying, “we have no evidence that Aspen will be affected” by the global economy, and Romero’s request for an early December reality check was ignored. Mick repeats “haste makes waste” as a reason not to react with more serious budget cuts. Haste? During five months of discussion, council can hardly be accused of haste.

Recent decisions say that council is out of touch:

– Jan. 20: Council decision to “go ahead” with $3 million Main Street pedestrian project (later reversed). Spent $125,000 in planning work. (Editor’s note: this date originally appeared as Feb. 20 ” the result of an editing error that has been corrected.)

– Jan. 28: St. Regis ballroom catered meeting for 400-plus citizens for AACP process (part of the $355,000, 2008 AACP expense). (Editor’s note: this date originally appeared as Feb. 28 ” the result of an editing error that has been corrected.)

– December 2008: $638,000 of bonuses paid to city employees. $500,000 bonuses budgeted for 2009.

– $3.8 million is budgeted for Burlingame II planning in 2009.

– Refusal to consider layoffs, reduced hours or reduced compensation for city employees.

The list goes on and on. Of course, The Red Ant will have more to say on the matter.

Despite Johnson’s view, voters “gave” council responsibility for leadership and stewardship.

Voters expect council to make the tough calls as part of their responsibility.

Marilyn Marks

Aspen


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