It seems our city often operates on the “sounds like a good idea” (SLAGI) principle. We jump from good idea straight to how to do it, bypassing any serious discussion of whether to do it. What are the specific future costs and benefits?
Examples are easy to find. Some are small potatoes, like our new ambassador to the pueblos. Some are much larger, like the new $4 million bike underpass beneath St. Francis Drive. In that case, two “feasibility” studies failed to identify any definite users, carefully avoided other, much less expensive alternatives and skipped the issue of maintenance costs.
We have another SLAGI project moving from idea straight to the “how” phase, and that is the public bank. Like the bike underpass study, the feasibility report was prepared by consultants with a mission to justifying the project while alternatives, including that of the city performing the tasks internally, were omitted.
Remember that the “public” bank is for the city government of Santa Fe only — not the general public. Also, all the decisions about what to invest and what money the city can put toward projects have to be made by the city. All of the ongoing work has to be done by the city, yet the “feasibility” study attributes all of the millions in savings to the public bank. In fact, the city can use a cash management system to do everything itself, without the public bank.
Let’s say we proceed along the SLAGI path. The public bank will cost an estimated $1 million of city money to set up. For another $1 million a year, the city will pay the bank to handle a few transactions a month, have separate independent offices, a board of directors, president, financial officer and secretarial staff. The bank will make regulatory reports and comply with banking regulations, including expensive audits, just like a big bank.
In return, the city gains nothing except an added $1 million-a-year burden on an already stressed budget. Shouldn’t we give some serious thought to whether we should do this before jumping in?
James Lodes is a retired senior loan officer from a small community bank that specialized in small business and consumer loans.