Saturday, December 3rd, 2016

Empty administration

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Our friend Jessica McBride commented on the city of Waukesha budget situation today urging the Common Council to “keep at it,” and suggested that perhaps the city administrator position should be left vacant.

And it’s happening in Waukesha, where the debate is over “how do we cut $1.5 million so we don’t raise taxes?”

Good starting point, although it’s coming a little late in the game, with the budget due in two weeks. They didn’t figure this out yet?

The question of course is how to get there. It’s a lot easier at campaign time to say, “I won’t raise taxes” than it is to tick off special interest groups or make service cuts to get there.

I prefer a focus on efficiency versus a shifting from taxes to fees, which is just robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Aldermen seem focused right now on two approaches: asking city workers, currently under contract, to kick in more money for benefits and wages and eliminating or leaving unfilled vacant positions, including possibly the city administrator position.

I’d prefer a blend of both, but I’m not holding my breath that workers are going to voluntarily kick in anything. Then, again, the debate has changed, and layoffs would be worse. So who knows? As a public employee myself, I was not thrilled with some of the insulting rhetoric against public workers as somehow being society’s “greedy haves.” They’re not. They’re middle- to working-class public servants, and government work should be respected.

Furthermore, there’s only so much we should ask them to bear. It sounds fair to say public workers should pay more for their health care and pensions, but what you’re really doing is reducing their take-home pay, which also reduces their contribution to the economy. Furthermore, salaries are often lower in the public sector, although benefits are better. At the same time, private employees have also endured layoffs, furloughs, and salary cuts. We’re all in this economic recovery together, so public workers must also play a part. At UWM, Walker’s big “assault” on public workers meant I lose $300 more out of every paycheck. Not fun, but I will endure.

So I’d urge the workers to give something. And I’d urge the city council to balance the budget not ONLY on the backs of public workers.

Not filling vacancies holds merit as well, although this should not be done without a clear analysis of the ramifications. Are they needs or wants? The fire chief says vacancies not filled since February would result in increased response times if eliminated. But what’s the data? They haven’t been filled since February, and it doesn’t seem like there’s been a huge response-times problem. But it might be a good approach to just delay filling the posts, not cut them entirely.

But surely some of the vacant posts can be left unfilled, including the city administrator. I prefer a mayor who is accountable to the voters making financial decisions, not an appointed administrator. If you don’t like the current mayor, vote him out.

And then Jessica asked a good question, “One does wonder why we are talking about this all now, in November. Shouldn’t some of these issues have been determined before, versus aldermen sending out some Hail Mary pass letter begging city workers to just give back more money?”

Yeah, well, when the quarterback mayor threw a big interception late in the game, it kinda reminds us why we had a city administrator.

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