Sunday, August 25th, 2019

Last-minute budget gymnastics were unnecessary


Last-minute budget gymnastics were unnecessary

Time to abandon New Day fund or disclose donors

Congratulations to Mayor Jeff Scrima on achieving a zero increase in the tax levy. Had the mayor not turned the entire process upside down at the last minute, the median homeowner would have only seen a decrease in their tax bill of $0.90, as Alderman Paul Ybarra helpfully pointed out.

Instead, the median homeowner will see a $2.71 reduction on their city tax bill. Never has so little saved by so many cost this much.

Congratulations to Alderman Joe Pieper and Alderman Ybarra, who actually found the reductions necessary to lower the tax levy to zero. Someone actually had to do the work the mayor was unwilling to do himself.

Finally, congratulations to City Administrator Lori Luther, who successfully negotiated with the city unions the concessions necessary to keep the rate increase to zero. You only need to look at what is happening in Milwaukee County to see just how difficult that can be.

The white smoke signaling we have a budget went up about 11:40 p.m. Tuesday night. That said, the fight over $1.81 per household was really made unnecessarily hard.

Had the mayor expressed early on what his intentions were with the budget, or if he even made any suggestions, the council would have been more than willing to work with him, as was demonstrated Tuesday night. Instead, his grandstanding and the nonsense about supplying “vision” just made him look unnecessarily silly.

A couple of the aldermen took occasion Tuesday night to chide the mayor about his tardiness to the budget process, justifiably so. I understand that he has made it difficult to work closely with the city administrator but there was still time to have input at the budget committee level.

As it was, unnecessarily (there is that word again) dragging the transit system into the budget discussion without any real plans only caused unnecessary anxiety for transit users.
You would think that someone who campaigned for mayor on changing the bus system would at least have a plan, or even an understanding of bus system funding, before suggesting undefined cuts.

Perhaps next year, when talk of the budget begins again, the aldermen could camp out in the mayor’s office until he actually offers some budget suggestions. I would suggest they start at 4:15 in the afternoon, since that is when the mayor does his best work.

While I’m making suggestions for next year’s budget, let me suggest the aldermen seriously consider cuts to the library, cutting out one leaf pickup, and using the county’s 911 call center instead of keeping a separate one.

* * *

Now that Mayor Scrima has a budget that he can finally support, perhaps he can finally donate half his salary to the city coffers rather than continue to risk a serious conflict of interest with his “New Day for Waukesha” fund. So long as he keeps secret the names of the donors to a fund conveniently named after his political campaign, the public should be very uncomfortable with the lack of full disclosure.

Simply put, the mayor has an obligation to disclose any donors and anyone he has solicited for a donation in order to eliminate any appearance of impropriety. Better still, he should eliminate the fund and donate the salary to the city as he originally promised so that there is no question of a conflict of interest.

It would even be preferable if he kept the money from his salary, breaking his campaign promise, rather than have an undisclosed fund in his name soliciting donations for undisclosed purposes.

* * *

Congratulations to my sister-in-law Pauline Wigderson, a city of Waukesha resident and assistant clerk in Wales. Her vegetarian chili won first place from the judges and from the public in the Village of Wales Municipal Chili Cook-Off on Sunday. Her chili also received the most votes of any chili in any category in the competition.

Congratulations, too, to my brother Erik Wigderson, whose chili was picked by the judges for first place in the “hot” category.

Most important, congratulations to all who attended for bringing over six barrels of food as well as a small cash donation for local food pantries. What a great event for a great cause.

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

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