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May 10, 2004

Backwards or Forwards! It's Your Choice!

Alan Imhoff

I read recently where the City of Frederick was compared to other municipalities around the State for some of its quality of life amenities. These other municipalities had maybe one or two of these identified "perks."

Under the background of a tight budget, the airport, Harry Grove stadium, Clustered Spires golf course and The Weinberg for The Arts were all shown as a cost of amenities. The stated figures collectively were 2.1 cents on every tax dollar. For property tax revenue on a $200,000 house that equates to just $26.88 out of $1,280.

To me this seems but a small price to pay for giving the City of Frederick a unique quality of life separating us from all the other municipalities around the state. If we constantly compare ourselves to every other town, city or place, then, over time, we will be like every other place.

I like what the City of Frederick is and what it is not. Just imagine what Frederick would be like if all those involved over decades had decided not to re-invest in the historic downtown, to provide for the preservation of hundreds of buildings, views, and architectural details that make historic Frederick what she is today.

Just imagine if many of those same people had decided not to promote the various ideas and reasons why we should have a Weinberg, or an airport, or a stadium or a golf course. Suppose they would be left to private enterprise? Would we be better off?

Imagine if you will another truck stop where Harry Grove Stadium is today. If it had not been for the restrictive conditions on donating the property by the Loats Foundation, who knows what would be there today?

If it had not been for the foresight of the Weinberg family, imagine the Patrick Center office building twice as big as it is today. I am sure there were others equally as interested in promoting the airport and golf course. Some of the reasons were economic I am sure; some of the reasons were for a particular interest.

But for me, they stand out as allowing government to maintain a certain "quality of life" that you cannot guarantee in the private sector. To sell off certain governmental assets to balance a budget seems to me very shortsighted.

The quality of life for a place is not defined primarily in dollars and cents but in how people feel about themselves and where they live. Quality of life is where our generation builds upon the previous generation contributions to make things a little easier, or more beautiful, or any one of a hundred descriptions you have of what quality of life means for you.

If - as a community - we begin to look at these "perks," as some have called them, and the administration deems they are not worth the cost, where do the politicians stop? What price would they willing to put on Baker Park before it becomes too expensive to maintain? Will the same be applied to the Carroll Creek linear park when it is completed? This administration has already displayed a penchant for "user fees" in many other parks or on ball fields within those parks.

In all this rhetoric I have not heard any comparisons on the cost of staffing this administration. Imagine how much could be done if we made similar comparisons to the cost of staff. If we take just the two hot "perks" of the Weinberg and the stadium that is roughly $650,000 a year that equates to about 6 positions earning $100,000 a year.

Whoa, we can't do that. We need those positions! But just suppose during tough budget times, of which this is only the first of several yet to come, you say to the Weinberg and the stadium during the next five years the city will cut its contributions by 15% each year. At the end of five years the City has cut its expenses for these two "perks" by 56% and is only paying out $361,591 instead of $650,000.

Now let's look at the other scenario, take those positions earning the same $650,000. After five years, at only a 3% increase each year, they are earning $753,528 or a 16% increase in the budget. Oh, and please do not forget there is at least a corresponding rise in benefit costs. What makes for better budgets, a $288,000 decrease or a $100,000 plus increase?

Yes, it is all choices and perception, quality of life versus short-term political gamesmanship, moving the city forward or taking it backwards.

We can make our voices heard at the budget hearings for whatever you feel is important. Just remember, once something is lost in our quality of life the harder it is to bring back, if we can.

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