Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

Another Scrima budget drama


Publication:Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:Nov 10, 2011; Section:Opinion; Page Number:8A

Another Scrima budget drama

Garbage fee fiasco threatens late budget

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.) 

The Common Council decided Tuesday night to ask, pretty please, if the unions would be willing to make some concessions to help balance the city budget. If they don’t, taxes will either go up or employees will be laid off, or both.

We are very late into the budget season and it wouldn’t be a city of Waukesha budget with Mayor Jeff Scrima without some drama. Alderwoman Kathleen Cummings wondered if, even if the unions would be willing to negotiate, the budget could be done on time.

Alderman Paul Ybarra was also concerned with the timetable, and that is why the unions have until Friday to respond. After that, the whole mess gets thrown to the Finance Committee to either find some more cuts, lay off employees or raise taxes.

Whatever they decide, and the council decides as a whole, will be subject to veto by Scrima. More chaos and more delay.

Some city residents wondered what city government would be like without a city administrator and Scrima left in charge. Now we know.

It’s worth remembering how we got to this point. The proposed city budget, endorsed by Scrima, included a new $136-per-household garbage fee. Scrima touted every homeowner giving the city $136 as a zero increase in the tax levy.

Despite the claim that the fee was for garbage collection, subsequent discussion revealed that the fee was really about the rest of the budget. Nobody was seriously suggesting that if the fee wasn’t collected that garbage collection would stop.

Predictably, the public did not support the garbage fee. They didn’t support the idea when Carol Lombardi was mayor, either.

Of course, now that “the people have spoken,” the mayor is all for figuring out a way to have a budget that does not increase the tax bill for homeowners. Before it was just a fee. Now any increase is bad.

But when the Finance Committee decided to get rid of the garbage fee, there was still time to consider alternatives. It was not until nearly two weeks later that the mayor announced that he would seek concessions from city employees.

There would have been even more time to consider alternatives if the mayor had consulted with the council beforehand about the garbage fee. Some of the aldermen might have even told Scrima that Waukesha has never liked the idea of a separate garbage fee.

Having a zero increase in the tax levy is a laudable goal. But Waukesha should have had imagination and leadership long before November to find the cuts to keep the budget down.

However, even if the council decides to raise taxes to the fullest potential allowed under state law, the median homeowner in this city would still save $82 compared to Scrima’s garbage fee. That’s not bad.

If the city staff is successful in negotiating reductions in benefits for city employees to avoid layoffs and taxes do not go up, I fully expect Scrima to take the credit. It’s just too bad that his first position was to raise your bill from the city by $136.

Since the mayor took office, a number of residents have complained that the council doesn’t just do whatever the mayor wants. Waukesha School Board member Steve Edlund even threatened to launch a petition drive to reduce the council to seven members if they didn’t do what the mayor wanted.

When the council rejected the garbage fee, it demonstrated why we have the city government we have, and why aldermen don’t just defer to the mayor.

The mayor recently appointed a number of members to the Business Improvement District Board and did not include Board President Shawn Reilly in the list of appointments. Scrima’s excuse was that Reilly would continue to serve the BID on the executive committee.

A number of downtown business owners and residents objected, but did they really expect the council to reject the mayor’s appointments? After the flak they caught for fighting with the mayor over previous appointments?

Besides, the council might have to override the mayor’s veto on the budget. One mess at a time.


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