A speaker at the Sept. 24 Platteville Common Council meeting described the year and half of meetings he had attended on the subject of downtown parking as “excruciating.”
That was before we all sat through the rest of the 3-hour 50-minute Common Council meeting, including that horrible pair of words — “work session” — on the 2014 city budget.
Among other things, the meeting reinforced why there probably should be a two-hour limit on Common Council meetings. (Either that, or take away their chairs and make them stand during the entire work session.) During the budget work session, while off the cable channel 36 cameras, Alds. Dick Bonin and Mike Denn got into a brief argument over whether it is appropriate for Denn to be conducting his own survey of city employees over the proposed 40-hour work week and furloughs. (More on that later.) Alds. Eileen Nickels and Patrice Steiner similarly sparred over whether adopting one Museum Task Force recommendation obligated the city to adopt all the task force recommendations. One week earlier, Denn and Ald. Barb Daus argued over one city job (about which more later).
Oh, by the way: At the beginning of the meeting the 2014 budget was about $7,800 in deficit. After the work session, the budget was $80,714 in deficit. That right there suggests a budget cut: the $18,000 the council is paid each year.
Readers of this column will recall that one year ago I expressed less-than-positive opinions about how the city’s budget process was going and how it ended. (To review, go to www.swnews4u.com/archives/8437/ and www.swnews4u.com/archives/9419/.) One year and two new aldermen later, the budget process isn’t any better; in fact, in some ways it’s worse.
You’ll recall that one year ago the Common Council voted to raise city employee pay 1 percent while keeping hourly employees at 37, instead of 40, hours per week. Council candidates Barb Stockhausen and Mike Denn campaigned on returning hourly employees to 40 hours per week, and they won their elections. So the current iteration of the city budget has a 40-hour hourly-employee work week, minus, as of this week, nine furlough days, which means hourly employees won’t actually be working 40 hours per week, figured over an entire year, if that’s enacted. And, by the way, no pay increases.
The city museums prove the veracity of the Law of Unintended Consequences. The museum’s 2014 funding request was more than 2013 spending, because of adding the three hours per week per employee. I imagine that is the case in other city departments as well. And this is before the expected double-digit health insurance premium increases.
The Common Council is approaching city employee work the wrong way, in pay, hours worked and furlough days. The purpose of government employment is to provide government services, not to employ people. (Former Common Council President Mike Dalecki’s list was topped by police, fire, EMS, streets, water and sewer, and garbage pickup, and everything else, in his opinion, was optional.) Government services need to be provided in the most efficient (in terms of value for their cost) manner possible, whether that means employing people or contracting with businesses.
Some city services require 24/7 work — police, to name one. Some may require 40 hours of employee work per week, but other services do not. To simply raise everyone’s hours from 37 to 40 per week ignores the reality of the importance scale of city services, and, rather than being “fair” to city employees, is unfair to those whose taxes fund city services. The city should not make blanket decisions to give raises or not, to employ all city workers 37 or 40 or however many hours, or to give furlough days. Each of those probably will vary based on city department. That is appropriate, rather than following someone’s definition of what is “fair.”
As for city jobs, one job in particular appears to be a lightning rod this year — the communications specialist position, the third of whom the city will be hiring soon. City Manager Larry Bierke created the position because, he said last week, when he was hired one concern the Common Council expressed was poor communication with city residents. Like it or not, the Internet isn’t going away. (Nor, apparently, will Common Council micromanaging, an issue in April’s elections that seems to be no better today.)
Part of the issue with the communications specialist position is the fact that the city appears to lack a communications plan, which includes marketing the city as a place to live and work to internal and external audiences. That involves figuring out strengths and weaknesses of the status quo, creating objectives, determining how to meet those objectives (which includes things that cost money and things that are part of city services, such as the city’s vastly underutilized cable channel 36), and figuring out how to evaluate how the plan is working. That also requires working together with other groups that have some role in marketing the city in some sense — the Platteville Area Chamber of Commerce, the school district and UW–Platteville, to name three. As far as I can tell, none of that has been done.
This also represents a good time to ask two questions from last year’s budget process. First: What happened to former Ald. Steve Becker’s good idea to review the effectiveness of where the city spends economic development dollars? Second: What happened to the review of the number of buildings the city owns or rents, with an eye toward reducing the amount of city square footage? (The Museum Task Force was the result of last year’s budget sturm und drang, so at least the council followed up on one thing.)
The result of last year’s budget process, if you want to call it that, was an unnecessary and ill-advised tax increase. This year appears to be turning out worse.