How about a list of essential services? | Letters | May 13
May 12, 2011 · 4:24 PM
It’s been several years since we embarked on the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression. Like most governments, Bainbridge Island has been forced to re-evaluate priorities, cut services and increase taxes.
However, it is unclear if city officials have defined which services are essential and what the costs are to deliver those services.
Our local roads, neglected for years, are in dire need of attention. One council member has suggested approximately 90 percent of our roads are in fair to poor condition.
However, the city has $2.8 million to spend on maintaining and improving our streets, in addition to funds set aside for the Winslow Way project.
I recently asked one of the leaders at City Hall if they had a list of essential services the city provides and the corresponding costs. Unfortunately, the official did not respond.
Any successful organization must have a clear understanding of who their customers are, their needs, and the costs to meet those needs. Traditionally, governments have not felt the need to relate to their customers (the taxpayers) because governments receive money regardless of the taxpayers’ satisfaction.
For instance, if we don’t like how our roads are maintained, we don’t have the ability to have our gas taxes sent elsewhere. As a result, we may not be getting the best “bang for our buck.”
Since the city is not willing to specify what essential services will be delivered for our money, here are some independent observations in my neighborhood.
1) In early April, the brush hog (rotary mower) was out for half a day, trimming only about two-thirds of a mile of road shoulder. Just 48 hours later, it was back re-cutting the same area.
According to a city official, it costs more than $1,000 to mow this two-thirds of a mile. Based on approximately 140 miles of roads on the island, the cost to mow all the roads should be approximately $200,000.
2) Last week, the public works department deployed six pieces of equipment and eight employees to grade and remove grass from the road edge. The crew mowed a little more than half a mile in four hours.
Although officials would not reveal the cost of this operation, it would seem a good deal of money was spent on a project with minimal benefits.
For 2011, the city’s cash receipts are approximately $52 million. This year’s budget should include an itemized list of services that will be provided for that amount so that we, the citizens, have a greater understanding of how our money is used. While this may be a paradigm shift for the city government, it’s not unrealistic.
Discussions could then focus on determining what the most important essential services are. Is it more important to spend $200,000 mowing shoulders, or should we buy new asphalt to repair our crumbling roads?
It’s time for city officials to provide a list of essential services and costs so we can make these types of decisions.