Wildfire Tests Police Force in Colorado Anti-Tax City

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Wildfire Tests Police Force in Colorado Anti-Tax City

Postby The Reaper » Tue Jul 03, 2012 5:01 pm UTC

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-07-0 ... -home.html
As Colorado Springs battles a rash of burglaries after a wildfire that still licks at its boundaries, it does so with fewer police and firefighters.

The city where the Waldo Canyon fire destroyed 346 homes and forced more than 34,000 residents to evacuate turned off one-third of its streetlights two years ago, halted park maintenance and cut services to close a $28 million budget gap after sales-tax revenue plummeted and voters rejected a property-tax increase.

The municipality, at 416,000 the state’s second-largest, auctioned both its police helicopters and shrank public-safety ranks through attrition by about 8 percent; it has 50 fewer police and 39 fewer firefighters than five years ago. More than 180 National Guard troops have been mobilized to secure the city after the state’s most destructive fire. At least 32 evacuated homes were burglarized and dozens of evacuees’ cars were broken into, said Police Chief Pete Carey.

“It has impacted the response,” said Karin White, a 54- year-old accountant, who returned home June 28 to a looted and vandalized house, with a treasured, century-old family heirloom smashed.

“They did above and beyond what they could do with the resources they had,” she said. “If there were more officers, there could have been more manpower in the evacuated areas.”

Taxpayer Revolt

Since the start of the 18-month recession in December 2007, U.S. cities have faced shrinking revenue and diminishing state support, leading to budget cuts and reductions in services and workforces. Cities faced a fifth-straight year of revenue declines in 2011, according to the National League of Cities, which estimated that municipalities would have to fill budget gaps of as much as $83 billion from 2010-2012.

Colorado Springs, which depends on sales tax for about half of its revenue, was hit harder than most. The city -- the birthplace 20 years ago of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which later passed statewide and has been pushed around the country to restrict government spending -- became a high-profile example of cost-cutting. The law restricts government spending to the previous year’s revenue, adjusted only for population growth and inflation.

“People are going to be looking at the aftermath of this disaster to see what is possible,” said Josh Dunn, an associate professor of political science at University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. “How far can you go in cutting the size of city government?”

Pre-Tea


The city, home of the evangelical Christian group Focus on the Family, is known for being conservative and libertarian. It “was the Tea Party before the Tea Party was cool,” Dunn said.

Six of the nine candidates in last year’s nonpartisan mayoral election, including the victor, Mayor Steve Bach, signed the no-tax pledge pushed by Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Richard Skorman, one candidate who didn’t, was flooded with angry e-mails after saying in a debate why he opposed such a pledge. What, he asked, if the city got hit by a major wildfire?

“Resources have been very stretched, and we were always worried,” Skorman, a 60-year-old small business owner and former city councilman who lost to Bach in an April 2011 run- off, said in a telephone interview.

On Edge

The costs of rebuilding combined with lost revenue from business closings and tourism could again push the city to the point where it doesn’t have money for essential services, he said.

“It is really going to make it difficult to deal with these things and all the reconstruction and things that are going to have to occur in this community,” Skorman said.

Bach said the city is on the path toward financial implosion anyway because of overly generous pensions and too many parks.

“Forget the fire,” said the mayor, whose office has an easel with a chart depicting Colorado Springs’s financial status, after a briefing on the blaze June 30. “At our current cost curve, we’ll be insolvent in eight years.”

Bach said the financial situation “certainly has affected our ability to take care of other things like parks and keeping the streetlights on.”

It hasn’t affected the handling of the wildfire, he said.

Heading Home

The Waldo Canyon blaze has killed two, engulfed a 29- square-mile (75-square-kilometer) area the size of Manhattan, has cost $11.1 million to fight so far and is now 55 percent contained. All but 3,000 residents have been allowed to return home, according to the Incident Information System, an interagency effort to track and provide wildfire information.

Such emergencies are why Bach’s administration has focused on increasing the city’s unrestricted general fund balance, which is now at 17 percent, said Steve Cox, the city’s chief of economic vitality and innovation.

Carey and Fire Chief Rich Brown said they are facing the same kind of cuts and budget restrictions as public-safety forces across the country. The reduction in manpower hasn’t affected their ability to respond to the wildfire, they said in interviews this weekend.

On June 26, when near-hurricane force winds caused a firestorm that swept into the city, “I don’t care if we had 2,000 people, there’s nothing we could have done,” Brown said. The city has 413 firefighters and recently graduated its first new class of recruits in five years, he said.

Working Together

Carey said the reduction in manpower has forced police to work more closely with the fire department and other agencies.

“That’s the emerging trend of public safety,” Carey said. “We can’t afford to have a surge capacity, maximum capacity every day for these kinds of situations. You have to think meaner and leaner, and have a plan that includes asking for outside help.”

The city has been aggressive in applying for federal grants, too, which have funded wildfire mitigation efforts, said Bret Waters, emergency management director.

Dunn notes that the city, where there is strong anti- federal government sentiment, is now turning to the U.S. for assistance. Before visiting Colorado on June 29, President Barack Obama declared the state a disaster area, which frees aid for communities affected by the wildfires.

“Ironically, Colorado Springs is going to rely heavily on federal funds for rebuilding,” Dunn said. “But it won’t cover everything.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Amanda J. Crawford in Colorado Springs at acrawford24@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net

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Re: Wildfire Tests Police Force in Colorado Anti-Tax City

Postby Enokh » Tue Jul 03, 2012 5:53 pm UTC

I feel like it's perfectly reasonable to not balance one's budget and taxes around the idea that there could be a city-threatening forest fire, unless forest fires are common in that area.

One of the purposes of Big Brother is to step in when crazy shit happens and help out Little Brother. Them accepting Federal tax-money to rebuild is not at odds with the city's desire to cut spending and not raise taxes in the slightest.

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Re: Wildfire Tests Police Force in Colorado Anti-Tax City

Postby Garm » Tue Jul 03, 2012 6:30 pm UTC

Enokh wrote:I feel like it's perfectly reasonable to not balance one's budget and taxes around the idea that there could be a city-threatening forest fire, unless forest fires are common in that area.

One of the purposes of Big Brother is to step in when crazy shit happens and help out Little Brother. Them accepting Federal tax-money to rebuild is not at odds with the city's desire to cut spending and not raise taxes in the slightest.


Sort of. In terms of the firefighting, I think this is another case of Pennywise, Pound Foolish. They could have invested in smaller, better infrastructure to do the same job but they didn't. One thing that's been hampering efforts to put out the Waldo Canyon Fire is that the fire fighting planes are ancient and have to be refilled with water/slurry manually. One thing we know to be true, despite all these cuts that the Springs decided to make, it's still Obama's fault that they got hit by a fire: http://freedomist.com/2012/06/freedomist-exclusive-obama-to-blame-for-waldo-canyon-fire-proof/

You'll also notice that the article discusses looting and theft in evacuation areas. That's not really a gap that you can cover with money from the federal government. That's a measure of the inadequacy of your city's police forces.
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Re: Wildfire Tests Police Force in Colorado Anti-Tax City

Postby Xeio » Tue Jul 03, 2012 6:31 pm UTC

It sounds like they were having financial problems even without trying to account for the wildfires. This just exacerbates things.

Enokh wrote:One of the purposes of Big Brother is to step in when crazy shit happens and help out Little Brother. Them accepting Federal tax-money to rebuild is not at odds with the city's desire to cut spending and not raise taxes in the slightest.
It is an interesting contrast to the anti-federal sentiment though.

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Re: Wildfire Tests Police Force in Colorado Anti-Tax City

Postby Arrian » Tue Jul 03, 2012 6:33 pm UTC

The Reaper wrote:
“That’s the emerging trend of public safety,” Carey said. “We can’t afford to have a surge capacity, maximum capacity every day for these kinds of situations. You have to think meaner and leaner, and have a plan that includes asking for outside help.”


This is an interesting question: What level of staffing should you have for public safety departments? Should you be staffed to handle normal, everyday issues? Or how about staffed so that you can handle 90% of the issues that might forseeably arise, (with or without overtime?) or should you be staffed to handle every single contingency? The two things I would like to see the story address would be how public safety was affected in normal times by the reduction in force and what kind of looting do you normally see in major evacuations?

Has the crime rate and response times to emergencies increased or stayed roughly the same? Has there been increased overtime, and how has that affected the public safety department? What kind of looting do towns normally face when a wildfire or other disaster forces the evacuation of most of their citizens? I can't determine what the costs of this policy were without that information. Also, there is no information on the benefits, such as what the city's credit rating is, and if it changed, so was there any impact on their ability and cost of borrowing? Also, did this just kick the can down the road, pushing back tax hikes, or did it actually lower the tax load?

As written, this article sounds like it's saying "You enacted this policy that I don't like, and now unrelated bad things are happening to you, neener neener!" It would be really interesting if they'd done something like "A Tale of Two Cities" comparing and contrasting the effects of natural disasters on Colorado Springs and another city in similar circumstances that didn't reduce its public safety force.

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Re: Wildfire Tests Police Force in Colorado Anti-Tax City

Postby Azrael » Tue Jul 03, 2012 6:36 pm UTC

Enokh wrote:I feel like it's perfectly reasonable to not balance one's budget and taxes around the idea that there could be a city-threatening forest fire, unless forest fires are common in that area.

One of the purposes of Big Brother is to step in when crazy shit happens and help out Little Brother. Them accepting Federal tax-money to rebuild is not at odds with the city's desire to cut spending and not raise taxes in the slightest.

The obvious rebuttal lies in the funding of the bigger brother. After all, that's someone else's tax dollars bailing out the area. The breakdown in rhetoric comes when a group or policy advocates that all levels behave in the manner that this municipality did.

It very much smacks of having one's cake and eating it too.

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Re: Wildfire Tests Police Force in Colorado Anti-Tax City

Postby Belial » Tue Jul 03, 2012 6:39 pm UTC

Exactly. Big brother helping out little brother is fine. Little brother doing nothing, safe in the knowledge that big brother will swoop in to save it if something goes wrong, and then going back to vilifying said big brother as soon as the crisis is over, is a bit beyond the pale.
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Re: Wildfire Tests Police Force in Colorado Anti-Tax City

Postby Xeio » Tue Jul 03, 2012 6:40 pm UTC

Arrian wrote:Has the crime rate and response times to emergencies increased or stayed roughly the same?
Yes, there have been service cuts, though they don't mention effects on crime rate. In particular to the police department, a decrease in burglary investigations and selling off police helicopters owned by the city.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/03/waldo-canyon-fire-wildfir_n_1645685.html
http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_14303473

Basically we're getting a nice demo of how the tea party's anti-tax rhetoric will run a city into the ground. I just feel bad for all those people who are suffering because of it now.

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Re: Wildfire Tests Police Force in Colorado Anti-Tax City

Postby Enokh » Tue Jul 03, 2012 6:52 pm UTC

Azrael wrote:
Enokh wrote:I feel like it's perfectly reasonable to not balance one's budget and taxes around the idea that there could be a city-threatening forest fire, unless forest fires are common in that area.

One of the purposes of Big Brother is to step in when crazy shit happens and help out Little Brother. Them accepting Federal tax-money to rebuild is not at odds with the city's desire to cut spending and not raise taxes in the slightest.

The obvious rebuttal lies in the funding of the bigger brother. After all, that's someone else's tax dollars bailing out the area. The breakdown in rhetoric comes when a group or policy advocates that all levels behave in the manner that this municipality did.

It very much smacks of having one's cake and eating it too.


Right, and their federal tax dollars went to New Orleans when it was hit, and has gone to the west coast when they're rocked (heh) by earthquakes, and all other sorts of natural disasters.

It really depends on what their angle was when they decided to decrease spending. If their angle was "fuck the government, stop taking our money, people should fend for themselves without the nanny state babysitting them!", then yeah, they're being hypocrites. If their angle was "The government needs to be more responsible with spending and we need to not throw money at the problem until it goes away, thus no new taxes" then there isn't an issue. There isn't even an issue with them saying that to the Federal government, because saying that the Feds need to be more responsible does not mean 'stop funding everything across the board'. Large-scale disaster response is an area that the Federal government is in a better position to handle than any other level of government due to it's size.

Arrian: It is completely unreasonable and unrealistic to think that local governments should be able to handle every eventuality. The National Guard exists for a reason, and that reason is pretty explicitly "sometimes there is shit too large for locals to handle on their own". Well, it was, until we started deploying them to warzones.

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Re: Wildfire Tests Police Force in Colorado Anti-Tax City

Postby Heisenberg » Tue Jul 03, 2012 7:05 pm UTC

The National Guard is an organization of Militias meant to repel invaders.

Disaster relief isn't really in their scope, either.

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Re: Wildfire Tests Police Force in Colorado Anti-Tax City

Postby Garm » Tue Jul 03, 2012 7:05 pm UTC

Azrael wrote:
Enokh wrote:I feel like it's perfectly reasonable to not balance one's budget and taxes around the idea that there could be a city-threatening forest fire, unless forest fires are common in that area.

One of the purposes of Big Brother is to step in when crazy shit happens and help out Little Brother. Them accepting Federal tax-money to rebuild is not at odds with the city's desire to cut spending and not raise taxes in the slightest.

The obvious rebuttal lies in the funding of the bigger brother. After all, that's someone else's tax dollars bailing out the area. The breakdown in rhetoric comes when a group or policy advocates that all levels behave in the manner that this municipality did.

It very much smacks of having one's cake and eating it too.


Which is probably why people (like me) feel that it's hypocritical for so called red states to complain about federalism while overwhelmingly consuming more tax dollars than blue states. In that equation, California is getting totally boned (actually, New Jersey is REALLY getting boned: http://thecentristword.wordpress.com/2012/01/26/red-states-addiction-to-welfare-a-gop-dilema/)

Here's a good rebuttal to that ridiculous link I posted above: http://southernbeale.wordpress.com/2012/06/27/ive-seen-fire-ive-seen-rain/
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Re: Wildfire Tests Police Force in Colorado Anti-Tax City

Postby Enokh » Tue Jul 03, 2012 7:20 pm UTC

Heisenberg wrote:The National Guard is an organization of Militias meant to repel invaders.

Disaster relief isn't really in their scope, either.


Invaders would be one of the things that is too large for locals to handle, yes. And I believe that was it's original purpose. However, Disaster relief is very much in their modern scope, considering their pre-9/11 advertising campaigns hinged on the idea that it's awesome to help out other Americans in their times of crisis. Just like how, now, being deployed to warzones is (unfortunately) within their scope.

I've always been pretty amused at how Red States take more federal money than Blue States as well.

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Re: Wildfire Tests Police Force in Colorado Anti-Tax City

Postby folkhero » Tue Jul 03, 2012 7:56 pm UTC

Enokh wrote:I've always been pretty amused at how Red States take more federal money than Blue States as well.

Isn't that largely just because of the lower population density of the Red States though? People pay taxes, people and land soak up tax dollars. Large low population states will tend to have more national forest service land, more national park land and more length of interstate highways than smaller states, and less population to support those things via taxes. It seems to me that a lot of the disparity is inevitable and doesn't have a whole lot to do with anyone's politics.

That being said, there probably are a lot of red state senators who use their high influence per population to bring a disproportionate amount of pork home to their states.
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Re: Wildfire Tests Police Force in Colorado Anti-Tax City

Postby Triangle_Man » Tue Jul 03, 2012 8:10 pm UTC

Enokh wrote:I've always been pretty amused at how Red States take more federal money than Blue States as well.

Yeah, that is sort of funny. Any idea as to why this occurs?

Could it have something to do with taxation policies?
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Re: Wildfire Tests Police Force in Colorado Anti-Tax City

Postby Enokh » Tue Jul 03, 2012 8:34 pm UTC

folkhero wrote:
Enokh wrote:I've always been pretty amused at how Red States take more federal money than Blue States as well.

Isn't that largely just because of the lower population density of the Red States though? People pay taxes, people and land soak up tax dollars. Large low population states will tend to have more national forest service land, more national park land and more length of interstate highways than smaller states, and less population to support those things via taxes. It seems to me that a lot of the disparity is inevitable and doesn't have a whole lot to do with anyone's politics.

That being said, there probably are a lot of red state senators who use their high influence per population to bring a disproportionate amount of pork home to their states.


I suppose that would depend on how much of their federal money goes towards those things, and if the amount of interstate and national park per taxpayer is enough to make up the difference in federal tax "income" that the state has. That's a bit beyond me to figure out, though, without ballparking a whole bunch of shit.

Triangle_Man wrote:
Enokh wrote:I've always been pretty amused at how Red States take more federal money than Blue States as well.

Yeah, that is sort of funny. Any idea as to why this occurs?

Could it have something to do with taxation policies?


I'd imagine it would be because Republican policies at best don't help uplift the poor and at worst actively keep them there, which results in more poor for the Feds to assist. Or, at least, that would be one of the reasons. Another reason could be that Republicans are in bed with the Military-Industrial Complex, those companies are housed in Red States, and the "amount of federal tax dollars" includes tax breaks to those rather large companies. I have absolutely zero to back that up, though, but I figured I'd toss it out there.

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Re: Wildfire Tests Police Force in Colorado Anti-Tax City

Postby Thesh » Tue Jul 03, 2012 9:37 pm UTC

Comparing these:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U. ... ita_income
http://www.motherjones.com/politics/201 ... harts-maps

It appears that states with less per capita income tend to require more federal funds. Shocking.
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Re: Wildfire Tests Police Force in Colorado Anti-Tax City

Postby Dauric » Wed Jul 04, 2012 3:41 am UTC

Enokh wrote:
Triangle_Man wrote:
Enokh wrote:I've always been pretty amused at how Red States take more federal money than Blue States as well.

Another reason could be that Republicans are in bed with the Military-Industrial Complex, those companies are housed in Red States, and the "amount of federal tax dollars" includes tax breaks to those rather large companies. I have absolutely zero to back that up, though, but I figured I'd toss it out there.


Colorado Springs owes much of it's modern existence to being in commuting distance of multiple military bases. Cheyenne Mountain and the Air Force Academy are two of the most famous examples, but there's some half-dozen other bases in the region as well. On top of that are labs and offices for a lot of the major military research companies.

That said though keep in mind that Colorado overall has been increasingly a "Purple" or "Swing" state, Colorado Springs is notable for it's strong Republican support, and as Colorado becomes less staunchly Republican overall Co. Springs is gaining a reputation for being an island of conservatism the way Boulder (college town) has a reputation for being an island of liberalism in the state (aka: The People's Republic of Boulder").
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Re: Wildfire Tests Police Force in Colorado Anti-Tax City

Postby The Reaper » Thu Jul 05, 2012 3:07 pm UTC

Dauric wrote:That said though keep in mind that Colorado overall has been increasingly a "Purple" or "Swing" state, Colorado Springs is notable for it's strong Republican support, and as Colorado becomes less staunchly Republican overall Co. Springs is gaining a reputation for being an island of conservatism the way Boulder (college town) has a reputation for being an island of liberalism in the state (aka: The Republic of Boulder").

So it's some sort of anti-Austin,Tx ?

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Re: Wildfire Tests Police Force in Colorado Anti-Tax City

Postby Dauric » Thu Jul 05, 2012 11:16 pm UTC

The Reaper wrote:So it's some sort of anti-Austin,Tx ?


wikipedia says:

Wikipedia on Boulder, Colorado wrote:Politically, Boulder is one of the most liberal and Democratic cities in Colorado. As of April 2012, registered voters in Boulder County, which includes Boulder's more conservative suburbs, were 41% Democratic, 20% Republican, 1% in other parties, and 38% unaffiliated.[21] To residents and detractors alike, the city of Boulder is often referred to as the "People's Republic of Boulder," and "25 square miles surrounded by reality."[citation needed] Similar epithets are applied to other liberal cities surrounded by more conservative areas, such as Madison, Wisconsin and Austin, Texas.


So, yeah, locally we'd say Colorado Springs is an "anti-Boulder", but "anti-Austin" is close enough.
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Re: Wildfire Tests Police Force in Colorado Anti-Tax City

Postby Garm » Thu Aug 23, 2012 3:36 pm UTC

Boulder is slowly being taken over by richer, more conservative people. It's a shame, really. The trick, however, is if you want to fund anything in Boulder County, just attach it to a bill/amendment/measure that's supporting Open Space (a concept where the city buys land and then either leaves it alone or develops it for recreational purposes) and you're golden.
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