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The City Café

For those interested in sharing ideas and perspectives regarding local government.

Category Archives: Municipal Services

Per previous blog posts, Cameron and Lincoln spent time in Nepal volunteering at an eye clinic in Phaplu with the University of Utah’s Moran Eye Center.  The entire trip was led by World Wide Trekking, a Utah-based expedition company, and its Human Outreach Project.   We previously compared Utah city infrastructure to Nepal infrastructure, and this final blog post focuses on land use in Nepal cities and Utah cities as well as a link to how you can help the Moran Eye Center’s efforts in Nepal.

ULCT’s own Lincoln and Lisa on Phaplu’s Main Street. Main Street (even if the street is actually a dirt road), like countless Utah cities, is the lifeblood of rural Nepal. You’ll see porters carrying goods, trekkers seeking refuge, kids playing outside, and utility infrastructure overhead. Nepali villages follow a similar pattern as their Utah counterparts. Buildings (tea houses, lodges, restaurants, shops) are concentrated on the main highway through town with the farm and ranch land extending to the terraces above town.

Most cities do not have any formal zoning and Nepali villages are essentially mixed-use developments with retail and residential units in the same building and agricultural uses everywhere. This is Durbar (Royal) Square in the urban heart of Kathmandu. We often see deer in Bountiful neighborhoods, but nothing like this!

We also found that cities in Nepal have billboards. Your correspondent wanted to meet with representatives of the outdoor advertising industry to discuss city-industry relations, but Lincoln reminded me that we were on vacation.

Historic Preservation District, Kathmandu style. Durbar Square in Kathmandu and Patan are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the Patan Durbar Square and is one of the oldest Buddhist cities in the world. Many Utah cities boast of historic LDS Temples or Tabernacles, but the temples in the Patan and Kathmandu historic districts date to 250 BC with temples finished between the 12th and 17th centuries.

Despite the difference in level of service, we were still able to find such government buildings as the Post Office and City Hall in Patan, Nepal.

A similarity between Patan City Hall and Salt Lake City!!!

As you’ve seen, we had a remarkable and memorable experience.  We were humbled by the sweet Nepali people and the amazing work that the Moran Eye Center doctors performed.  If you would like to contribute to the Moran Eye Center’s Division of International Ophthalmology, please contact Esther Pomeroy at 801-587-9942 or esther.pomeroy@hsc.utah.edu.  You can also go to the Moran gift webpage.  Every dollar makes a difference to the wonderful people of Nepal.

Thanks for reading, remember to thank your city for making life better, and Happy Holidays!

Happy Friday!  Per Part 1, Lincoln and Cameron went to Nepal with the Moran Eye Center and then explored the Khumbu region after the Eye Clinic ended.  Utah cities spend millions of dollars to maintain a surface road system that allows people, goods, and services to circulate in the community.  Local roads are a key cog in the entire transportation network and the local economy.  In the summer, Utah cities send their public works departments to evaluate, re-surface, and repair roads.  In the winter, Utah cities ensure that snowy roads are plowed and are safe.  Roads are equally vital in Nepal, but the transportation system in the highlands is unpaved, vehicleless, and dominated by porters, trekkers, and yaks.

There are stretches of the Everest highway where the Nepali government has “paved” it, but you can tell they don’t possess an asphalt paver! Porters can carry up to 200 pounds on their backs.

Utah has large swaths of rural roads that connect rural communities and moves goods from rural Utah to the Wasatch Front and beyond. In Nepal, this sweet lady is walking along the main highway that connects all of the villages along the Mt. Everest trek. All goods must either be grown or produced in the village or carried to the village by porters. The highway is primarily dirt—no worries about potholes—and is long and steep. No snow removal either. Notice the suspension bridge behind her.

 

A bridge too far?

Suspension bridges literally connect Nepal together. Utah cities often build overpasses, underpasses, and other vehicle and pedestrian bridges to connect communities over and around freeways, railroad tracks, water bodies, or other busy roads. In Nepal, villages straddle the hillside and the bridges can hang hundreds of feet above the raging river and stretch thousands of feet across the valley. They are covered with Buddhist prayer flags, and the bridges can bring the most agnostic trekker to prayer. The bridges sway with the canyon winds, and if an animal is crossing the bridge, hold on tight!

When roads are built in Utah cities, the public works department sends heavy equipment, notifies residents of the construction and potential delay, and detours traffic. The public works department considers retaining walls, storm water runoff, structural stability, and other engineering requirements. This Nepali road is the busiest highway in Kathmandu and they are adding another lane. The workers are chiseling, excavating, and building the road… by hand.

Yak attack!

Instead of sharing the thoroughfare with vehicles as you would in Utah cities, porters and trekkers must watch for mules, cattle, and yaks. We never saw any “yak crossing” signs, but you learned quickly that a 2000 pound yak has right of way regardless of whether you were there first. As you may expect, yaks and others leave their manure in the road and Nepalese cities do not have a cleanup service. Utah cities provide poop bags at local dog parks but we don’t recommend expanding that service for pet yaks!

Have a great Utah fall weekend!

 

 

 

ULCT’s Lincoln Shurtz and Cameron Diehl spent most of October serving with the University of Utah’s Moran Eye Center at the Himalayan Cataract Project in Phaplu, Nepal.  The Moran Eye Center surgeons regularly travel to the developing world to perform cataract surgeries.  Moran’s Dr. Geoffrey Tabin co-founded the Himalayan Cataract Project which partners with the Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology and the local doctors and nurses in the Phaplu Clinic to conduct an annual Eye Camp.  Lincoln and Cameron helped serve over 1000 Nepalese ranging from ages 18 months to 95 years.  The doctors, Dr. Geoffrey Tabin and Dr. Alan Crandall, performed 90 cataract surgeries, including on people who had been blind for decades.   People walked for up to 3 days to attend the clinic, and some people even carried their elderly relatives on their backs so that they could receive treatment.  One lady had been blind in both eyes for 46 years.  After a 20 minute surgery, she could see.  What a miraculous, humbling, & inspiring experience.  (see pictures below)  We appreciate the Moran Eye Center for extending the opportunity and will cherish our memories.

During their time abroad, Cameron and Lincoln also observed municipal government and noticed which municipal services were lacking.   Check the blog in the days ahead for examples of municipal services in Nepal (or lack thereof) and thus gain a greater appreciation for how Utah cities truly make life better.  For today, enjoy the pics from the Eye Camp!

Cam, Lincoln & Dr. Alan Crandall (Moran Eye Center) stand with patients awaiting the removal of their patches. They had the 20 minute surgery the day before and spent the night at the clinic.

Dr. Geoffrey Tabin checks the newfound eyes of a patient. She was completely blind in both eyes the day before and had been blind for decades. The translator asked her to touch Dr. Tabin’s nose, which she did gleefully did!

 

I can see! Look at that smile!

 

Yes, you can now see through your patch.

We congratulate the Moran Eye Center, the Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology, and the Phaplu doctors and nurses for serving over 1000 people and for conducting a successful Eye Camp.

DOUG MACDONALD, ECONOMIC POLICY ANALYST

How much privatization is good for cities in this recession-strapped century?  Have any cities found it cost\beneficial or cost-efficient to load up on contracts to perform city services?  A recent article in the New York Times highlights the experiences of two cities: Sandy Springs, GA and Maywood, CA that have taken privatization to high levels.

In economics we teach that “public goods” those that should be provided by government are both 1) non-rival and 2) non-excludable.  Non-rival consumption occurs when one person’s consumption does not detract from another person’s consumption.  Consider a national defense system or a lighthouse.  One additional person using the service does not add to the marginal cost of the defense system and one more ship in the harbor doesn’t detract from the light received by other ships.[i]

The second principle of public goods, non-exclusiveness, occurs when you can’t exclude a consumer from receiving the benefits of the system.  If the country is under attack by foreigners, then you protect all of the citizens; you can’t exclude people from the benefit.  Similarly, it’s difficult, if not impossible to monitor a single car from using the street system in a modern urban city.[ii]  If exclusion is possible, such as charging drivers for using a bridge or a toll road with a GPS transponder, then it is good to use the price system for the benefit provided.

The conclusion is that if goods or services are non-rival and non-exclusive they ought to be produced in the public sector.  Alternatively, if the good or service is rival or excludable then it should be produced by the private sector.  A pizza, therefore, is both rival and excludable.  If you eat one piece, then I can’t eat it (rival).  And if I can separate and charge you a price for your pizza the good is “excludable”.  We need to consider these two qualities with each function that a city may decide to contract the service out.

A wealthy community of 94,000 in Fulton County, Georgia, Sandy Springs incorporated because its voters were generally dissatisfied with the municipal services provided by the County.  In 2005, the first “interim” city manager, Oliver W. Porter did a lot of advance work to contract out most services.  Currently, private vendors provide most of the services in Sandy Springs except for John McDonough, the city manager, and six other city employees (and police and fire too as it turns out later in the article):

“Applying for a business license? Speak to a woman with Severn Trent, a multinational company based in Coventry, England. Want to build a new deck on your house? Chat with an employee of the Collaborative, a consulting firm based in Boston. Need a word with people who oversee trash collection? That would be the URS Corporation, based in San Francisco.”

Porter, a retired AT&T engineer, did a lot of the original spadework and wrote contracts that specified the many tasks and duties for private contractors.  For the first five years the city only used CH2M Hill, an engineering firm based in Englewood, Colorado (and an office in Salt Lake City), “to handle every service it delivered.”   But last year the city “sliced the work into pieces and solicited competitive bids.”

“When the competition was over, the town had spread duties to a handful of corporations and total annual outlays dropped by $7 million. (Representatives of CH2M, which still has a call-center contract, said at the time that they were “deeply disappointed” by the results, but wished the city well, according to a local news report.)”

In the last round of bidding, Sandy Springs began awarding second and third place bidders in case the primary contractor underperforms.

On the negative side, some complain that the new city is a “white-flight suburb that has essentially seceded from Fulton County”.  “Will this rich enclave become a gated community walling itself off from areas that are economically distressed?” worries Evan McKenzie, author of “Privatopia: Homeowner Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Government”.

To learn more click on the Times article or check out Oliver Porter’s book:  “Creating the New City of Sandy Springs”

 


[i] Economics of the Public Sector, Joseph E. Stiglitz, 2000, p. 128.

[ii] Public Finance, Harvey Rosen and Ted Gayer, 2010, p. 55.

 

Utah adds a city larger than Logan in new growth each year to the state (since 1999).

Utah adds a city larger than Logan in new growth each year to the state (since 1999).

Mark Twain used to say, “there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”  There is no question that numbers can be used to manipulate the truth and Lee Davidson‘s article  on October 23 “State and Local Governments are Flourishing” fits into this category, using numbers that only tell part of the story. Here are a couple of examples:

  • In 2007 Utah reported 131,802 full-time public employees (state, counties, cities, school districts, water districts, and special districts) — an increase of 8,328 from 2002.
    • This number is really only relevant if we look at the overall state growth — since 2002 Utah has increased in population by over 340,000 new residents (a city larger than Logan a year).
    • So what does this mean…according to Mr. Davidson’s numbers public employees have increased by 8,328 – but as a percent of the population these local government employees have actually decreased from 2002 (5.2% of the population) to 2007 (4.8% of the population).
    • This would imply that state and local governments are not necessarily flourishing…but increasing appropriately with the overall state growth.
  • Utah governments added 50 percent more workers than the national average
    • In 2006 Utah was the 3rd fastest growing state in the nation…with a growth rate 1.6 times the national average. I don’t think it takes much analysis to explain why Utah would add 50 percent more workers than the national average.
  • Utah added 2,493 new elementary and secondary teachers in five years
    • According to the Economic Report to the Governor (2008) Utah’s school age population will grow by 113,000 between 2000 and 2010 – and grow by another 160,000 before 2020. According to that math Utah is going to need to hire even more school teachers quite soon.

The real story is that growth creates pressures for all local government entities (schools, cities, water districts, etc). When Utah adds more than 50,000 new residents to the state year (a growth rate Utah has sustained since 1999) this puts pressure on local government – and requires more employees. Should we put a cap on the number of teachers or professors the state can hire? Or maybe a city should be capped on their number of employees? I have a feeling this won’t sit well when suddenly a city is not allowed to increase the police force when the population of the city or county increases. Or when universities or high schools are not permitted to add new faculty to account for the increased number of students.

It is pretty simple math…more residents in Utah means more need for cops, teachers, etc. I don’t think this is scandalous in the sense that “the size of government here is growing.” A story about what are the real costs of growth by Mr. Davidson would be far more informative.

making-life-better.jpg

An essential focus of our 100th conference was our new ‘Making Life Better Campaign.’  The campaign is aimed at educating citizens regarding local government, and primarily educating citizens on the services their municipality provide.  The League survey research consistently indicates that Utahns evaluate the quality of life in their community as very high.  Overall citizens rate the services they receive in their city highly also (water, trash collection, parks, libraries, police and fire, etc)–however, there is a significant disconnect when asked who is providing these services.  For example, in our latest Dan Jones & Associates survey we asked respondents (statewide survey of Utahns) if they had used a city or town service in the last 24 hours. 40 percent responded ‘No’.  Additionally, only 3 percent of respondents identified planning and zoning as a city service. Or only 10 percent noted parks as a city service.

We believe the part of the onus in on local government to do a better job of communicating what we do. There is definitely room for huge improvement and hopefully the ‘Making Life Better Campaign’ is a step in the right direction.

You can read the Deseret News article about the campaign here: Logo Targets Ignorance About Cities

You can also open a pdf version of my business session presentation here: Myth vs. Reality

Please contact me if you have questions or comments about this research or issue.

Is there a limit to what services government should provide? Who draws the line? I think the debate between providing public services and competing with private sector is a great discussion. I used find myself strongly in the libertarian camp, but have come to appreciate many of the public programs/services local government provides (maybe not so much with the federal govt). I also think there are a number of citizens that are looking to government to provide more and more services (all with low taxes but that is another discussion).

Anyhow, if you are also interested in this debate you might enjoy a recent discussion on KCPW. Monday on Midday Metro, Roger Tew (ULCT lobbyist/attorney) and Senator Howard Stephenson (R-Draper, President of the Utah Taxpayers Assoc.) debated the issue for 20+ minutes. Sen. Stephenson advocates at a minimum a process to review what local government ought to do and ought not to do. Roger advocates a more democratic process of determining what services should be provided based on the voters and the elected officials of each jurisdiction (maybe city X wants a rec center, city Y a golf course, etc).

Senator Stephenson also suggests the possible idea of doing away with state liquor stores and turning liquor sales over to the private sector…the interview is worth listening to: Midday Metro Monday, July 16, 2007

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