Much more than a dime: taxpayers fund trip to Colorado | ParkRecord.com

Much more than a dime: taxpayers fund trip to Colorado

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

Mayor Dana Williams and the Park City Council earlier this year, faced with some of the most difficult budget talks in years, made across-the-board cuts in the City Hall budget, including tinkering with the schedule for employee raises, as they came up with a spending plan in the recession.

One item, though, that was not cut from the budget is the annual ‘City Tour,’ a traditional outing led by City Hall to other places in the West meant to generate ideas from people and programs in the destinations and build relationships between those on the trip.

This year’s City Tour never appeared to be threatened as the elected officials were crafting the budget. The trip, which was scheduled to depart early Wednesday and return on Sunday, will visit Crested Butte, Colo., and its environs. The trip has visited Crested Butte, a mountain resort like Park City, several times before.

The trip is estimated to cost between $650 and $700 per person. The elected and appointed officials and most of the City Hall staffers who are scheduled to attend will have their trip paid for with taxpayer money. A few others on the trip, part of the Summit County government or other public bodies, will also tap taxpayer money for the excursion to Colorado.

To send the City Hall officials, it will likely cost upward of $8,500, based on the number of people from the municipal government that were scheduled to attend. The cost will be less for the other public bodies, which typically send fewer people on the trip.

"I think it’s very definitely a very good use of the money," said City Councilman Roger Harlan, who is planning to travel to Colorado with the group and is a veteran of approximately 10 of the City Tours.

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Harlan, who is not seeking re-election this year and plans to retire from the City Council in early January, said people on the trips frequently return with ideas that are later put in use in Park City, making the trips a worthwhile expense. He said the trips over the years have "more than paid off in new ideas."

As an example, Harlan said, the blueprints for the skateboard park in City Park were tinkered with after people on a trip Boise and Sun Valley in Idaho saw skateboard parks there. The City Park skateboard park has been popular enough since its opening that it was later expanded.

"These trips are fact-finding trips, and you never know what you’re going to find," Harlan said, calling himself a "very strong proponent of the value of these trips."

The five-day trips, dating from the start of Park City’s boom era some 20 years ago, have been an institution at City Hall. There has not been widespread criticism of the cost to the taxpayers, and people who have gone on them usually say there they were a worthwhile use of the money.

People from the private sector, not-for profit leaders and the Leadership Park City training class accompany the government officials. They either pay their own way or are paid for by their employers. There are 66 people scheduled to attend this year.

The trip-goers spend much of their time listening to presentations from their counterparts in the other places, going on walking tours and taking time to delve into their professional or personal interests. Many sample the nightlife as well.

The itinerary for the Crested Butte trip includes remarks from a former Colorado senator, a visit to the Gunnison Valley Observatory and a selection of tours to places like Crested Butte’s historic district or a mine cleanup site. In between the group will attend receptions and have meals with the people in Crested Butte.

Liza Simpson, another City Councilor who is on the trip roster, said the City Tours over the years have proven to be wise expenditures of taxpayer money. She cites a trip to Grand Junction, Colo., when the people from Park City learned about publicly displayed art and a dirt-jump bicycle park.

Simpson has attended two trips and part of another one. They are an "important investment," she said, adding that they offer "a lot of bang for its buck." Occasionally, she said, ideas to save money at City Hall are brought up, but she could not recall an example.

"Prudent use of taxpayer money is not stuffing it in a mattress and not spending it," Simpson said.