Category Archives: Opinion

The Trouble in Paradise

For hundreds of years people have flocked to the United States because of its fairness, opportunities, and individual freedoms.

Are we still the land of the free and home of the brave?

Our nation became great for many reasons, but perhaps the biggest reason is because of the growth of our middle class.  The period from post WWII until about 1973 produced more gain in individual wealth than in any other time in our history.  As presented by Jason Furman, Chairman, Council of Economic Advisers, during this time: “The US enjoyed rapid labor productivity growth, averaging 2.8% annually. Income inequality fell, with the share of income going to the top 1% falling by nearly one-third, while the share of income going to the bottom 90% rose slightly.”  Unfortunately, since then, the numbers have fallen into the negative.

What I know is the direction our country has been heading is unsustainable.

I think it all started with Reaganomics, a supply-side economic theory that has not proved to function as intended.  For those unfamiliar, the idea is to reduce taxes on the upper end in the hope they will re-invest it, creating more business that produces more jobs and a growing economy.  But, that hasn’t happened.  Instead, wages have stagnated, the economy has stalled, and the middle class is shrinking.  That’s mainly a result of human nature; once you get power, the first thing you want to do is keep it.  So as a few got more and more powerful they bought off our legislators who in turn created huge tax loopholes and other incentives to drive more profit to a few.   As a result, we now live in a country that looks very much like an oligarchy.

The last thirty or so years has also included an effort to privatize all shared services in order to reduce the size of government.  As a result, we have a judicial and penal system incentivized to put more people in prison, the most expensive healthcare system in the world, and kids either uneducated or steeped in debt from the high cost of college.  And, that’s to name just a few problem areas.  Today, we have less choice in our lives and the freedoms that sprung from a strong middle class and from shared resources are nearly all gone.

Returning to an age of shared growth.

In order to turn the tide, we have to make some changes and where that starts is in realizing that free market principles are NOT the best way to deliver ALL goods and services.  Some yes, but not all.  We need to let go of our fear about words like socialism and understand there are good ideas everywhere from which we can cherry pick.  We need to understand that an effective government can be good for all people, not just a few.  We need to get our heads out of the sand, stop hiding behind ancient ideology with no evidence of success, and think critically about how we govern and grow our economy.

And, that starts with YOU!  We ALL need to take the time to question the opinions and positions that pundits, leaders, and celebrities are presenting.  We need to educate ourselves on all sides of the issues, open our minds and look at options and new ideas rather than simply adhering to “this is the way we have always done it.”  And, most importantly, everyone needs to remember to vote.  If you don’t, nothing will change.

EFPD Charging for Motor Vehicle Accidents

On December 12, 2014 the Denver Post published "Evergreen fire adds fees for first response" by Josie Klemier. The article detailed The Evergreen Fire Protection District Board of Director's decision to approve a fee schedule for 2015 to charge nonresidents for response to motor vehicle accidents and other emergencies. The article created a bit of a stir and incited a fairly excited cry of confusion with a bit of outrage over our local social media.  Because the article only reported the outcome of the decision, I decided to dig a bit deeper into the background that led to this choice.

Full Disclosure:

Personally, I find the EFPD board's decision to charge for services at motor vehicle accidents to be short-sighted.

I spent 12 years as a volunteer with Alpine Rescue Team, a nonprofit search and rescue organization located in Evergreen. I was also involved both nationally and regionally with the Mountain Rescue Association.  Across the nation, search and rescue has a firm policy against placing blame and in charging for rescues of any kind.  I have been involved in promoting that policy on more than one occasion. I started the Facebook page No Charge for Rescue and also, with others, authored the winning argument that persuaded the Golden City Council to abandon charging for rescues in recreation areas by their fire department. 

I believe decisions like this one present a slippery slope, which could easily lead to other incidences of charging for other services.  More importantly, I do not feel this decision adequately reflects our community values or presents our community brand in a positive light.  As more policies like this roll out across our state, I believe we are going to see more problems than solutions. 

That said, it appears acceptable forethought entered the decision.  I'll leave it to you to determine if there is adequate justification.

The Conversation:

Kudos to our Fire Chief Mike Weege.  After requesting financial information about the district, Chief Weege took it upon himself to learn about my concerns and to answer all my questions regarding the decision.  I'm happy to provide our unedited correspondence.  If you are interested in reading the email, send me a note and I'll fwd you the correspondence.

Following are some of the highlights of our correspondence.

  • Authority: House Bill 11-1059 Gives fire protection districts the authority to bill for extrication, rescue or safety services in furtherance of ambulance or emergency medical services.
  • Financial Condition: The district is legally not allowed to operate in the red.  The 2013 EFPD Audited Financial Statements reported assets in the amount of $10,907,659 with capital assets representing about 70% of that number, a fund balance of $259K, and unrestricted assets of $3,425,488. 
  • Organizational Assessment: "The district has organized two separate focus groups over the last four years.  One was to discuss the EMS billing fees and alternate EMS fees, and the second was to help develop the 2014 Strategic Plan.  Both groups were made up of business owners, HOA representatives and home owners in Evergreen.  Both of these groups asked us to leverage fee schedules to offset rising costs before going to the public for a mill levy increase." 
  • Concerns About Revenue: "We are very concerned over our budget situation.  Since 2010, we have seen a 12.4% drop in our property tax revenue.  This has resulted in us cutting programs and other costs significantly.  Not being able to make the scheduled deposits into our reserve fund has a significant impact on our future needs."
    "The concern over revenue is mentioned several places throughout the Strategic Plan.  One page 57, on page 38 under Planning Assumptions, in several of the division plans and is shown in Driving Factors of this Strategic Plan and listed as one of the concerns of the focus group on page 5.  As you know, the housing bubble burst in 2008 started to affect us after 2010 and our revenue has been down each year after that.  Is is projected to be down again in 2015 and as 2015 is another property valuation year, we are hoping the trend reverses as we are currently seeing homes sales increasing and construction projects starting again."
  • Revenue Generation: "In 2013 we ran on 129 MVA.  Our estimates were that we could generate between $30,000 and $50,000. This doesn't seem like a lot against a $5M budget but with the many other revenue sources we are identifying, it adds up.  For example, we are working hard on developing firefighters for wild land fire deployment, which are paid deployments and  can/has brought $50,000 in revenue.  We are dispatching for five other mountain fire departments now and that is bringing in $80,000 – $100,000 a year."
  • EMS Budget: I should explain further the EMS budget.  EMS's annual operating expenses are between $1.8M and $2M.  The invoicing for transports is about $1M a year be our actual receipts are only about $560,000.  This is mainly because Medicare and Medicaid only pay a small percentage of the bills we send them.  One pays 30% and the other pays 7%.  We are not legally able to bill the individual the balance so we have to write off the difference every year.

To me and others in the district this decision seemed abrupt; I leave it to the reader to determine whether $30 to $50K of potential revenue against a $5 Million budget outweighs the potential for lost community goodwill.  I'd encourage anyone who wants to learn more to contact Chief Weege or to attend the district's monthly meetings. 

 

A Shift in Direction

The original purpose of this site was to offer a fresh viewpoint on the topics of nonprofit leadership, holistic marketing, fundraising, and organizational development.  I titled it Hip Tips and my goal was to present interesting and insightful information, ideas, and points of view that would stimulate and motivate nonprofit/NGO's to strive for excellence.  After close to three years of posts, I hope I've acheived that goal… if only just a bit.  I plan to continue expressing my viewpoints on nonprofit management and so I've moved my Hip Tips posts to my business page, www.questusstrategies.com.

Today, this blog takes on a new direction.  I'll be shifting gears in order to spread my wings and expand my writing portfolio.  I plan to stretch myself in new directions, by expressing my thoughts in new ways, by trying new things, experimenting, pressing the envelope.  I hope to present my views on things that matter.  But not always, because sometimes, a little leavity is important.  Sometimes diversion is necessary for focus.  Largely, I plan to reflect on my experiences and offer opinions of importance regarding relationships and freindships, art, politics, travel, culture, and life in the mountains that produce dreams of the ocean; all sorts of reflections from a well-worn life.

I hope you join me.