In case you didn’t follow the brouhaha in Colorado Springs this week, the great snack debate reared its ugly head in the City’s budget mark-up session. As each City Council member was able to propose changes to the budget, there was one proposed change that widely elicited chuckles. But I believe it was one of the bigger philosophical points brought forth that day.
City Councilwoman Angela Dougan proposed canceling the City-paid $350 subscriptions to the Colorado Springs Gazette and the Colorado Springs Business Journal, and eliminating the $1,500 budget for snacks for the City Council. In the world of municipal budgets, this is not a significant amount of money. One might even call it a rounding error. But I believe it is not the amount of money, but the principle involved that is important: Should elected officials expect “extras” when the taxpayers are on the hook?
First, does the City need to spend money on a subscription to the Gazette? I would assume that most civic-minded people who choose to run for public office would already subscribe to the paper. And if they don’t get the paper at home, the City has issued each City Council member an iPad. The Gazette is available on the iPad. That is how I read the Gazette each morning. What is the drawback of canceling the taxpayer-funded subscription? I have not heard an answer.
Second, is it a legitimate function of city government to provide snacks for its employees? The City Council members who fought for the fund said that when meetings go into overtime, the members would have something to eat. I spent 25 years in the private sector, and many times meetings went into overtime and people were hungry. I would carry granola bars or something similar to get me through. If a company in the private sector chose to have a working lunch and supply food to the attendees, that is a different story. They would be using their own private money.
The challenge with this question of snacks for the City Council lies in the fact that taxpayers pay for the snacks. If the Council member was not working on City business on a given day and was hungry, he would find something to eat. He would not be subject to more cost because of his job. He would be eating anyway. This is not a legitimate taxpayer expense and it should have been eliminated.
It is important to look at this situation in terms of the principle involved, rather than the amount involved. Is it necessary to feed snacks to the City Council, or provide them a newspaper when it is done at the expense of the taxpayers? If this doesn’t bother you because it is only $1,500, what amount spent on snack food does bother you? $3,000? $10,000? If at some amount, the snack budget does bother you, I encourage you to look at the principle involved.
Expenses borne by taxpayers should be limited to those that are absolutely necessary, and only those expenses. I appreciate Councilwoman Dougan understanding this point.