Of budgets, new fees, and swimming holes
During that last budget cycle two years ago Councilor Perry, Mayor Axelrod, and City Manager Stein were discussing creative ways to raise your city fees beyond the 5 percent per year cap on utility fees which the voters had put into place.
They decided to defer the fee discussion, and now if you read the Tidings, you know that a brand new "public safety" fee is proposed. That was undoubtedly a creative solution, but not necessarily a desirable one as one considers the budget as a whole and one's personal finances.
I believe we should not have new fees until we look at staffing and compensation levels as various citizens like myself have asked to be done for many budgets cycles to no avail.
I am particularly unhappy about what I feel are overly generous severance packages offered to a fairly large group of upper staff. Most of these staffers have six month's worth of severance pay written into their contracts due to their tenure, and amazingly Chief Timeus received nine months of severance when he parted ways with the city. Several states, including Idaho, Illinois, and Florida ban or restrict the use of government funds for severance pay, as should we.
I regret that the Tidings so rarely researches the hard budget questions and so few citizens have in the past. Perhaps this year could be different, and we could proclaim this the year that the community reads and comments on the proposed budget. I regret that the proposal for the next biennium is not yet posted, since some of us are slow readers, nor has there yet been a public notice telling you how you can provide input for the budget process.
So I will tell you. You can write emails to be included in testimony, you can speak at the meetings and hearings.
So what are the hard budget questions? In addition to why Chief Terry Timeus got an unprecedented nine month's salary severance when he left, I wonder the following:
Where are the fiscal inefficiencies in our current city operation? How many years will the legal troubles of our police department bleed our general fund with suits such as the ongoing Michael Fesser civil rights suit? What did paid bench time of officers cost us this last two-year budget cycle? When will the proposed draft budget be shared with the public? And why in the previous budget is it impossible to ascertain the salary benefit packages of each of the many administrative positions as the numbers are aggregated by department? How many new benefited staffers would it someday take to run that aquatic/rec center which the Parks Board majority is working so hard to weave into the Parks Master Plan? Wouldn't the voters have to vote in such a large expense?
The Parks Board meetings tapes are finally being posted on the city website. I have been listening to some of these tapes and am surprised by two things. First, why aren't they pushing for natural resource protection in the Waterfront Planning?
The Parks Board could be a formidable force to encourage the preservation of oak and wetland habitat interwoven with whatever is developed in the Waterfront. They could change the future for the better by championing significant preservation. Whatever gets developed there can be greatly enhanced by preserving some of the natural character of the place.
The second thing I do not really understand is the sense of talking about an aquatic/rec center without discussing its total cost and discussing the various times the voters said "no" to an aquatic center much smaller than this proposal.
I can't quite visualize affording both the tax increase necessary to construct, staff, and maintain what is proposed, and having enough left over to afford admission to such a place. But then again I have a problematic relationship with my tax bill and have a growing list of swimming holes that I enjoy all for free.
Rebecca Adams is a resident of the Bolton neighborhood.
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