We're already poor, folks

Between the Lines

| February 04, 2010

Most of the time, when people mouth off about local politics, my basic instinct is not to listen. Almost always, it's simply a misinformed (actually, uninformed would be more appropriate) blowhard spewing about how much the Colorado Springs city government has wasted our money, and how our elected leaders are totally at fault for the budget problems.

You can try to deal with those people, but it's not worth the effort. They rarely listen, and aren't really interested in the actual story.

But I heard one ignorant comment too many the other day in a west-side supermarket checkout line, and it bothered me enough to respond to it here. Because something tells me that person isn't alone in his misconceptions. Here's what he said:

"I can't believe we're so worried about saving these community centers. If people can't be at home when their kids get out of school, they should just be responsible parents and pay for day care. I'm sure most of them can afford it, or we can let the churches do it. This city isn't hurting that bad. I'm tired of hearing all the stories about people who aren't making it. They're probably spending all their money at bars and on tattoos."

That's so wrong, it's almost worth ignoring. But then again, I've heard others say we should do away with all bus service, and that the city shouldn't be spending a penny on programs such as kids' sports.

If we were just talking about the upper-class neighborhoods, there might be more room for discussion. But for those who don't have a full-picture view of reality, and who think this city truly is economically healthy, let's check the best information available: schoolchildren who qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches, based on their household's total income. Those numbers are readily available from the Colorado Department of Education's online site here.

The facts might surprise you.

El Paso County as a whole has 109,246 students in public schools, as of the fall 2009 semester, and 37,361 get a free or reduced-cost lunch (up from 32,992 in 2008). That translates to 34 out of every 100 kids living near, at or below the poverty level (based on $20,000 or less annual income for the smallest households, and rising from there depending on family size).

But wait. We're just getting started here. Let's take out the county's four most affluent districts: Lewis-Palmer's District 38 (only 8.57 percent receiving free or reduced-cost lunches), Academy District 20 (10.34 percent), Cheyenne Mountain District 12 (14.64 percent) and Falcon District 49 (18.85 percent).

The rest of El Paso County looks like this: 61,700 students, with 31,129 on free or reduced-cost lunches. That comes to 50.45 percent.

In other words, we're already poor, folks. Whether you see it in your life or not. But just to be sure, let's narrow the focus to districts that suffer the most: Colorado Springs School District 11 and Harrison District 2.

D-11 started this school year with 29,641 students, and 14,985 needed help with lunches — 50.55 percent, and more than 1,000 over last year. D-2 is worse: 11,309 students, 7,643 on free or reduced-cost lunches, or a whopping 67.58 percent. The state average, by the way, is 38.38 percent.

Now let's talk about how well off Colorado Springs is.

When such a large chunk of the city has that many kids from households barely scraping by, the last thing we should be doing is shutting down community centers and parks, eliminating other programs, cutting bus service and, oh yeah, turning off many streetlights in high-crime areas.

It might not affect you. But we can't close our eyes and ignore those 22,500-plus kids in D-11 and D-2, plus thousands more from strapped families in adjacent districts. Also, we don't know how many of those families have younger children who haven't reached school age. These kids are our future. If we ignore them now, our community will pay for decades to come.

Granted, there are other ways of defining economic stability. But so many statistics, such as unemployment figures, aren't credible because so many jobless people go uncounted for various reasons.

These numbers, and the problems they magnify, are real.

And as for that guy at the supermarket, hopefully he knows how to read.

routon@csindy.com

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Comments (7)

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Great article, Ralph -

Glad you are there to say it for us!

Susan Fountain

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Posted by skfountain on 02/04/2010 at 1:34 PM

Ralph, if I had a dime for every similar comment that you had bear witness to I just might have enough money to fund the centers. Thank you for taking the stance that we, as residents of this community, have a responsibility to do our part to try make this a healthy and vibrant community for all of its citizenry, regardless of how many digits in one's bank account or the 809__ code in which we live. One of your proud public servants, Brian Kates, Facility Director Meadows Park Community Center / Westside Community Center

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Posted by Liberal4ThisPlace on 02/04/2010 at 6:43 PM

"And as for that guy at the supermarket, hopefully he knows how to read."

Ralph,

You are entitled to hope. Sorry to be elitist, but Rush and Sean and Faux News do his thinking for him. This is well-written. As a retired D-12 whose wife and friends work in D-11 and D-2, respectively, I can attest to the facts alot of folks and their kids are hurting.

Good job.

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Posted by schriendog on 02/05/2010 at 9:09 AM

Ralph -

You, the City Council, John Hazelhurst, et. al. have one recurring, idiotic theme: The voters are ignorant, ignorant, ignorant.

A study of democratic history shows that the voters/citizens always manage to steer the government back from its excesses when it get off track. It has gotten off track now, and you are more of the problem as opposed to a solution.

The citizens, Mr. Routon, are not ignorant, not even your supermarket example; they are scared, and rightfully so. They know intuitively that for the most part their good jobs and good earnings are gone, possibly forever. They see that City Council/EDC has been able attract only a handful of companies since the telcom boom of the early 90's fled to Asia. They see massive debt looming ahead that can only lead to much higher taxes, not only at the Federal level, but the huge PERA deficit that covers future City retirements.

They might support a tax increase, Mr. Routon, but fear the Council will hand more millions not the infrastructure you discuss, but to the USOC or other boodoggle. Or to PERA to float the massive City workers pension plan. The voters look around the country and see whole sectors of our economy shut down by regulation (energy, manufacturing, mining, textiles) and the country as a whole becoming a third-rate economic power (with the exception of entertainment and information technology, and how long IT?)

The voters see the pro-tax and anti-business stance of the Obama administration, the pro-tax City Council, and the pro-tax State Legislature, and know darn well that nobody would launch a business or create one job in the current economic environment. Investment capital is fleeing the U.S. for the BRICs and other countries that welcome capital and job creation, where the greens and the lawyers won't sue them over every minor incident and Preble mouse.

The voters/citizens know intuitively that we have to keep cutting until we get to a zero baseline budget, they know we cannot afford a city government where the average salary is $89,500 with Ferrari benefit packages; it is unfortunate that services as you describe have to be cut, but the real problem began when the City exceeded it's charter and got in the "lifestyle" business. Surely community groups will form to take over these centers, a private sector solution always arises once the government flops.

We are in for many, many years of deep potholes and broken up roads while we await the kind of alignments on both the national level and local level that will make Colorado Springs and the U.S. competitive enough in world markets to start creating jobs, and therefore raising tax revenues to support larger government. And government will have to show it is responsible enough to use the money wisely.

It is not the citizens that are ignorant, Mr. Routon, it is our leadership on all levels of government that are ignorant, not to mention those who are in bed with them, including the media.

Michael
Colorado Springs

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Posted by Michael1 on 02/10/2010 at 10:14 AM

So... people are poor, therefor the only obvious conclusion is that the city must continue to spend money they don't have on sports, community centers, and street lights. OK, great. No potential solutions to the City's current financial problems were given by the author at all, so what does this piece do, other than allow the author to spout off and feel superior to some anonymous guy at the grocery store?

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Posted by Pete on 02/10/2010 at 5:32 PM

I would beg to differ Michael. I do think many of the people of this city are as ignorant as government. How many incumbents have been elected over and over and over again.

"Lionel Rivera was first elected to an at-large city council seat in April 1997 and re-elected again in April 1999. In April 2001, he was elected to serve as vice mayor for a two-year term. In April 2003, he was elected mayor and was re-elected to his second term as mayor in 2007."

"He was first elected to serve the last two years of the vacated District 2 council seat in 1991. He was elected to an at-large council seat in April 2003 and was re-elected in 2007. In 2005, he was elected vice mayor."

"Scott Hente was elected to the Colorado Springs City Council representing District 1, the northwest quadrant of the city, in April 2003. He was re-elected to serve a four-year term in April 2005 and again in April 2009."

"Darryl Glenn was appointed to the Colorado Springs City Council representing District 2, the northeast quadrant of the city, in June 2003. He was then elected to serve a four-year term in April 2005 and was re-elected in April 2009."

"Bernie Herpin Jr. was originally appointed to an at-large council seat in March 2006 to complete the term of a member who resigned. He was elected to a full term in April 2009 as the representative of District 4, the southeast quadrant of the city."

"Tom Gallagher was elected to an at-large council seat in April 2003 and re-elected in 2007."

"Randy Purvis was elected to an at-large council seat in April 1987 and was re-elected to a second term in April 1991 and a third term in April 1995. After sitting out due to term limitations, in April 2003, Mr. Purvis was elected to an at-large council seat. He was re-elected again in April 2007."

http://www.springsgov.com/page.aspx?NavID=…

As you can see only Jan Martin and Sean Paige are newly elected or appointed members. So yes the citizens of this city are ignorant or just plain stupid for keeping the same leadership in play for the better part of a decade.

Scott
Colorado Springs

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Posted by ScoMan on 02/11/2010 at 12:00 AM

Scott said it best. It is the voters of this city who have made it what it is. With the cutting of so much of the basic services we are becoming the laughing stock of the nation for our cheapness. Our city has been featured on ABC news, Google News, ect over the last week. Keep in mind the majority of voters in this city are the hippocriitcal people who are/were in the armed forces, are paid highly by the government and watch the radar all day and then they complain about paying taxes for basic services. You have to pay taxes for society to function. Maybe we should cut the military pay too. How would they like that? I'm sorry to say it that way, but it is the truth.

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Posted by DrkKnightbatman on 02/14/2010 at 6:54 PM
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