Hi again! I’m Greg Vartan, Candidate for the Ward 2 seat on Common Council, and this is the “What I’ve Heard Walking” series.
I have been walking around town, meeting new friends, residents, and business-owners. One of the things I’ve heard most frequently is the frustration that stems from being taxpayers in one of the states with the highest tax burden in the entire nation. It can be difficult for young families to purchase a home and equally difficult for older people to retire in Summit.
That is why it is critical that our Common Council continues to embrace the principle of spending our tax dollars responsibly. In pursuit of that, I believe there should be three very basic questions asked whenever the city government will consider spending money. They are: 1) Can we afford this? 2) What are potential implications? 3) What do the residents think? Here’s why we should ask these questions.
Can we afford this?
When thinking about projects and initiatives individually, it is easy to arrive at the conclusion that the project has merit, and should be funded. But it is important that we always remember to consider the other needs at the same time. With unlimited ideas, but limited funds, we can’t afford to risk thinking about projects in a vacuum.
One example of this broad-view of consideration when approaching funding is the recently adopted Uber Pilot program. I salute the Mayor, Council, city staff and especially City Administrator Michael Rogers for leading the charge on this idea. By embracing innovation the city will enter into a pilot program with Uber that will essentially eliminate the need for 100 of the cars that sit idle in City parking lots all day while the owners commute on the train. If the City can avoid the need for yet another parking lot or worse (a parking structure), then we would save millions of dollars.
The gateway signs upgrade project, that will place signs at the entrance to Summit is an example of a project lacking the proper consideration. There’s no doubt the upgrades will look nice and certainly produce some pride in our town, but the question of how that money might have been better spent is one that will unfortunately go unanswered.
What are the potential implications?
When considering brand new ideas, we must seek balance. Often there is an urge to rush in, but there can also be bitter obstruction from those who can get hung up on every detail. These extremes have been responsible for the death of ideas at all levels of government. Somewhere in the middle is the concept that we can work hard to push ideas forward while being mindful of the details and being considerate of all potential implications at the same time.
The Parkline project, which will convert 1.2 miles of abandoned railway into a trail and park has the potential to be an incredible asset to our community. I agree with many on the Council who say it has the potential to increase property values, encourage connections in different parts of the community, and draw visitors to Summit.
As we move forward with the project, it is essential that there is a cost-estimate that includes realistic expectations for the cost of maintenance and what the potential security costs might be, and who will bear them.
What do the residents think?
This third and final question is arguably the most important. When discussing projects it should be the policy of the City government to be absolutely certain that the residents know what’s happening- and that there are ample opportunities to speak up and voice opinions as well.
Considering both the technology at our disposal and the size of Summit we really have no excuse for not making sure all the citizens of Summit are as informed and engaged in the process as they would like to be. The Master Plan re:Vision can serve as a model. There have been gatherings, online forums, a telephone number, and of course the opportunity to submit thoughts via email. This should be considered the standard, and a similar approach can be adopted when it comes to getting input about projects, initiatives, ordinances, and resolutions coming before the Council.
We can upload documents on the website, and be reactive to what people can find and comment on, or we can be proactive in really seeking out the opinion of as many people as possible. This type of model should also be helpful when prioritizing, and will help to uncover new necessities as well.
Finally, It is a highly contentious, hyper-partisan, and often frustrating election season. But here in Summit we shouldn’t be discouraged. Because whatever party you belong to, I believe we can all agree that responsible spending is critical to help us work together to build the Summit our children and grandchildren can be proud of.