From the Seattle Times, July 2, an article titled Colorado’s emergency-response teams burned by anti-tax attitudes. Some excerpts follow:
Because of conservative and libertarian sentiments and a no-tax pledge passed statewide 20 years ago, Colorado police and disaster-response teams are stretched thin as a virulent wildfire ravages land near Colorado Springs.
As Colorado Springs battles a rash of robberies after a wildfire that still licks at its boundaries, it does so with fewer police and firefighters and a limited tax base that may hamper its rebound.
The place where the Waldo Canyon fire destroyed 346 homes and forced more than 34,000 residents to evacuate turned off one-third of its streetlights two years ago, halted park maintenance and cut services to close a $28 million budget gap after sales-tax revenue plummeted and voters rejected a property-tax increase.
The city, the state’s second-largest, with a population of 416,000, auctioned both its police helicopters and shrank its public-safety ranks through attrition by about 8 percent; it has 50 fewer police officers and 39 fewer firefighters than five years ago. More than 180 National Guard troops have been mobilized to secure the city after the state’s most destructive fire. At least 32 evacuated homes were burglarized and dozens of evacuees’ cars were broken into, said Police Chief Pete Carey.
“It has impacted the response,” said accountant Karin White, 54, who returned Thursday to a looted and vandalized home, with a treasured, century-old family heirloom smashed.
“They did above and beyond what they could do with the resources they had,” she said. “If there were more officers, there could have been more manpower in the evacuated areas.”
Since the start of the 18-month recession in December 2007, U.S. cities have faced shrinking revenue and diminishing state support, leading to budget cuts and reductions in services and workforces. Cities faced a fifth-straight year of revenue declines in 2011, according to the National League of Cities, which estimated that municipalities would have to fill budget gaps of as much as $83 billion from 2010-2012.