It was hard work defeating the garbage fee
And now it’s Miller Time.
The city Finance Committee Thursday rejected by consensus a new $136 garbage fee championed by Mayor Jeff Scrima, and a majority of the remaining aldermen announced publicly or said in interviews that they wouldn’t vote for it, either.
With the idea appearing all but dead, Finance Committee members told city staff to come back with up to $2.7 million in cuts.
Committee Chairman Joe Pieper said staff had already identified $1.2 million in cuts not shown in the budget that would produce a tax levy in line with state limits and result in an estimated $54 tax increase on a home of average value, or $188,000. He said the cuts would not result in dramatic staff layoffs or service cuts, as Scrima had suggested.
Other Finance Committee members, Ald. Andy Reiland and John Kalblinger, said they wanted the cuts to go deeper in order to produce a tax levy that is no higher than last year.
In opposing the garbage fee, Pieper said, “A tax is a fee and a fee is a tax.” He said simple math supports a $54 tax increase as opposed to a $136 garbage fee.
Reiland said taxpayers wanted a zero increase. He proposed several areas of additional cuts, from keeping more vacant positions open and reducing some of the $1 million in overtime in the budget.
Every alderman who spoke said they had heard overwhelming public opposition to the garbage fee.
Several citizens – including ones who had supported Scrima in the past – also spoke against the fee.
At a minimum, I just saved myself $82 without switching to Geico. (Actually more because my house is not worth $188,000.)
Seriously though, I’m looking forward to the next round which is figuring out the cuts. As I’ve said before, in a city with three leaf collections, a city-owned cemetery and a redundant 911 call center, there’s some room to maneuver in the budget. It’s also worth mentioning that labor costs are actually higher this year than next year because of the long-term contract preventing the city from taking advantage from the changes in the collective bargaining law for city employees. Plus this may give acting City Administrator Steve Crandell the leverage he needs to re-open the contracts if the city employees are facing layoffs.
Let’s note that the mayor will not be able to dodge responsibility for this one. He fully embraced the garbage fee, even conducting a marathon presentation in an attempt to save it at tonight’s finance committee meeting. Interestingly, his defense underscored the criticism of the garbage fee I made in Thursday’s Waukesha Freeman column. By presenting every widow and orphan in the city budget that would be affected if the garbage fee is not implemented, Scrima demonstrated for the council and the public that the garbage fee had nothing to do with the collection of garbage. The garbage fee was just a clever way of raising government revenue while trying to claim he is not raising taxes. That approach failed miserably.
It’s also worth pointing out that the whole debacle demonstrates that Crandell, despite the support of one Common Council member, should not be entrusted with the responsibility of being the city administrator full-time. Crandell had a responsibility to the public and the council to prepare for the failure of this garbage scheme. Instead he gambled on its success and he’s left scrambling to come up with an alternative city budget. It’s a mistake his predecessor would not have made.
Finally, the garbage fee failure is also a failure of Scrima’s so-called smart people. Was it the example of the city of Pewaukee (see Harlan Clinkenbeard) that caused Scrima to make this error? Was it other family members in the real estate biz? How about the Waukesha Environmental Action League’s early endorsement of the “pay-as-you-throw” garbage fee concept that wasn’t really being proposed, just talked about? Whomever the culprits were that pushed Scrima to support the garbage fee, they helped destroy any reputation he had as a budget hawk and a fiscal conservative.