Local government officials need to 
steel their nerves in budget battles

Shootists, sheriffs, stock detectives and regulators of the Old West all agreed about one thing: Nerve was the most important thing in a shootout.

Accuracy and, to a lesser extent than we are led to believe by movies, speed were important, but the ability to stay in the fight as wild shots were careening around you usually made the difference.

This is a lesson local government elected officials should probably learn, since most of the shootouts they managed to get themselves in over budget cutting have resulted in a failure of nerve when it comes to the execution.

In the Old West, this usually resulted in a preacher saying something over a wooden box on the side of a hill. Today, it just costs taxpayers money. Maybe the old way was better — the possible outcome was a lot more personal and tended to focus attention.

It’s no secret the city of Grand Junction and Mesa County are practically out of money. For the county, this is predominantly because of the vagaries of property tax calculations and some law enforcement demands that tend to increase in poor economies when you can least afford the expense.

The city just spends money like it prints it, and it would print it if it could get away with it. Recent citizen comments to The Daily Sentinel seem to indicate the citizenry is not blind to the fact that Grand Junction’s budget woes seem to have a lot in common with the amount of money that was paid into the Avalon Theatre retrofit fiasco and probably a lot of other things we haven’t heard as much about.

So, enter the need for budgetary belt-tightening and the public entities rightly look at ancillary entities such as the Colorado Riverfront Commissions and transit expenses, some of which may be nice to do but not in times of austerity.

I was going to say there was initially tough talk of making cuts, but when I reread the stories about the budget, I realized it was more of a soft throat clearing.  Even that was too much, as the usual pressure groups showed up, wagged fingers, and all of the proposed cuts were reinstated.

There was, however, a lot of talk about how much more detailed information the City Council is going to want next year before it gives the money away again. This is the political equivalent of when your dog barks at the moon; it has the same effect on the entities involved as the dog has on the moon.

I noticed that on the same day as this story appeared in the Sentinel, the city was advertising for banquet and pastry cooks, presumably for the existing white elephant known as Two Rivers Convention Center.

Here’s a bit of advice to start to saving money: Get out of the catering business. Colorado Mesa University has done a tremendous job of turning its meeting facilities into the pre-eminent location for public events. It has done so by using private-sector, contracted food services which, I’m making a fairly confident guess, are much more economically sound in their return to the university than what happens with the city’s food service.

Perhaps the best return on investment the city might receive for its $500,000 yearly contribution to Colorado Mesa University would be to fire the city manager and have CMU President Tim Foster swing by a couple of days a week over his lunch hour to run the city.

Foster seems to be one of the few public servants who receives some kind of return on investment.

Let’s be fair, however. It’s easy to be tough while sitting at home on the sofa reading the newspaper. Meanwhile our elected representatives sit in a room with activists giving them the fisheye while we conservatives are home watching the O’Reilly Factor on television and getting steamed up about what’s going on in Washington.

So, while we take our political representatives to task for not having the gumption to stay in the shootout, we often don’t show up for it at all. If I might paraphrase a line from one of the greatest movies of all time, “Tombstone,” during the gunfight at the OK Corral: “The fight’s begun. Either get to fightin’ or get out.” Good advice.

Rick Wagner wries more on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.

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