Sunday, February 7, 2010

City without civic services!

Citizens pay taxes to municipal bodies for accessing civic services, most or all of which have come to be so much taken for granted that widespread opposition to any proposal to increase local taxes is commonplace. So how would it be like to live in a city which has gone back in time and stopped providing civic services? Thanks to the Great Recession, we now have such an experience in Colorado Springs, Denver.

"More than a third of the streetlights will go dark Monday. The police helicopters are for sale on the Internet. The city is dumping firefighting jobs, a vice team, burglary investigators, beat cops — dozens of police and fire positions will go unfilled. The parks department removed trash cans last week, replacing them with signs urging users to pack out their own litter.

Neighbors are encouraged to bring their own lawn mowers to local green spaces, because parks workers will mow them only once every two weeks. Water cutbacks mean most parks will be dead, brown turf by July; the flower and fertilizer budget is zero. City recreation centers, indoor and outdoor pools, and a handful of museums will close for good March 31 unless they find private funding to stay open. Buses no longer run on evenings and weekends. The city won't pay for any street paving, relying instead on a regional authority that can meet only about 10 percent of the need."

States and local governments in the US have been very badly hit by the Great Recession. On the one hand while property and sales tax collections have dipped alarmingly, expenditures on food stamps, unemployment insurance and other welfare measures have risen. The bitter experience of cities like Colorado Springs underlines the importance of federal government transfers to support cash-squeezed local governments in times of economic slowdowns.

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