Letter: Kindergarten approach to parking department
September 29, 2014
Aspen's "Parking Gate" represents a failure of governance. One or more city officials should be fired if the loss was due to incompetence. One or more city officials should go to jail if it was due to corruption. These are the only two possible explanations. No other explanation is possible.
I make the assertion as a former U.S. Treasury official and a consultant to the International Monetary Fund. At the Treasury, I was responsible for a group that was required to estimate the revenues from various energy taxes. With the IMF I worked with nations to design programs to estimate revenues from taxes. In Yemen and Turkey the revenue estimation programs we developed significantly boosted tax collections, much to the disgust of government officials who were on the take.
Let me be clear, revenue collection is key to good governance. Revenues are required to provide services. Every competent government — every one — develops sophisticated systems for collecting tax revenues. A forecasting system is a key component.
Revenues from parking meters are a source of revenue for the city of Aspen. The program has been scammed for three years, costing the citizens almost $1 million. (My guess is that the ultimate cost will reach $2 million if the city ever allows an independent investigator to look into the matter.) The error would have been caught if the city had a systems of projections officials bothered to compare actual receipts against projections. Such a system, though, requires competence.
Now those in city government are attempting to blame the individuals who did not pay their fees. Some city officials say these individuals are to blame for depriving the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority of financial support. Let me be clear: The city officials are wrong. It is one thing for a scam to go one, two or three months without detection. It is very different for a scam to go four years. The scam would have been caught much earlier if Aspen had developed decent revenue estimation teachings — as all competent governments do.
City officials should look in the mirror. They are to blame for depriving RFTA of $800,000.
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I am tempted to assert that Aspen is being run as a country club, not a government. However, the analogy is incorrect. Any country club that survives relies on estimates of revenues and expenditures. A country-club bar is not allowed to give away $800,000 in free liquor.
The correct analogy for Aspen is to a kindergarten. Kindergartners know nothing about expenditures, budgets and revenue forecasts. Neither do the current officials of Aspen.
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