Columns » Outsider


Day of the dead


It was one of those gorgeous May mornings -- a little hot, but still a perfect day to be outside, enjoying our perfect azure skies, our scented air, our perfumed lilacs. And I was in one of my favorite places in all of Colorado -- not Aspen, not Crested Butte, not Mesa Verde, but Evergreen Cemetery. Thanks to Matt Mayberry, the amiable and utterly unpretentious director of the Pioneers Museum, I had the privilege of helping to lead the museum's annual cemetery tour.

For those of you who may be just a little weirded out by the idea of spending a day in the City of the Dead ... get over it! Evergreen is verdant and shady, a de facto park that's bigger, greener and arguably a lot more fun than any other public place in Colorado Springs.

It was, for the most part, an older crowd that accompanied us as we wandered through the cemetery. I think we all were just scoping out our future neighborhood. So if you don't see me around town for a while, you might want to look at the family plot: Block 54, Lot 38, where my great-grandmother, my grandmother, my grandfather and my step-grandfather all rest -- undoubtedly in perfect harmony.

Evergreen is very alive to me, as it is to tens of thousands of other Springs residents whose loved ones rest there. It's comforting to realize that Evergreen, along with Fairview Cemetery, is owned by the city and is safe from highway builders, developers and even the wistful yearnings of golf course designers. That's why I wonder whether our current City Council members, none of whom were born here, really understand what might happen if they make a serious move to privatize the cemeteries.

Good buddies, let me just give you a friendly warning: Don't even think about it! If you think we old codgers caused a ruckus over proposals to sell the City Auditorium, you'll see the whole thing repeated on a vastly larger scale. You'll have lawsuits, demonstrations, recall threats and thousands of permanently angry citizens. Sell off my City Aud? I'm mad, but not dangerous. Sell the bones of my ancestors to, say, Costas Rombocas? I can see the headline: "Cemetery Insurgents Strike Again!"

Even though it was a beautiful day in the cemetery, Matt Mayberry seemed preoccupied. It was easy to guess why. It's that time of the year, when, faced with flat-to-declining sales tax revenues, the city manager asks every department head to cut next year's budget. For the Pioneers Museum, always the last operation to be funded and the first to be cut, that might mean reduced staff, less exhibition funding or curtailed hours of operation.

That's in keeping with Council's operating philosophy, which is to run a "meat and potatoes" government -- fund public safety and transportation, give a little bit to parks, and try to get the private sector to fund everything else.

It's a legitimate point of view, one that would have a lot more resonance were it not for the ratepayer/taxpayer-funded subsidies that have so benefited developers, builders and new home buyers over the years. But given that our city-owned Colorado Springs Utilities is, shall we say, somewhat spendthrift, does it make sense to shortchange the museum?

An example: Last week I, along with every other Utilities ratepayer in Colorado Springs, got a nice little four-color brochure in the mail with all kinds of helpful water-saving tips. It cost Utilities plenty to design, print and mail it. This was the same week that Council, in response to pleas from Utilities honchos, essentially eliminated watering restrictions to increase revenues. So Utilities spent tens of thousands encouraging conservation -- but what they really want to do is sell more water!

A few thousand, a few million -- that's chump change to Utilities. But to the Pioneers Museum, or to the chronically underfunded cemetery, a few thousand dollars makes a big difference. These are lean, efficient operations, the managers of which aren't afraid to get their hands dirty.

So here's a suggestion to Council: Stop trying to squeeze petty economies out of the museum, and take a careful look at Utilities. Remember the words of Willie Sutton.

Why did he rob banks?

"Because that's where the money is."


Add a comment

Clicky Quantcast