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home : opinions : opinions February 26, 2015


11/7/2012 12:57:00 PM
Hard lines lead to council gridlock
The Rice Lake Chronotype

It's another fine mess over at City Hall. After seven budget-cutting meetings, the council was unable to agree on a 2013 city budget Thursday and opted to have no more meetings. They figured they'd be fruitless anyway.
As it stands now, the public hearing for the budget is Nov. 13, but the budget isn't really done. Most members of the council agree that further cuts are needed or revenues need to increase, but how that's to be done remains contentious. Some council members support a tax levy hike, others don't. Some support further layoffs, others don't. Some support reimplementing the storm water utility fee, others don't.
The inability of the council to compromise has led it to a fiscal cliff, just like at the national level. The city needs to set a tax levy, which is forwarded to the county clerk, who issues tax bills in December. If a levy is not set, the city defaults on bonds and quickly runs out of operating and payroll money.
There are failures at several levels.
This council, which is now fixated on a balanced budget, ended the storm water utility fee but made no provision to pay for the ongoing costs, estimated at about $500,000 per year. The council has had a year to work through the problem but has accomplished nothing. That issue should have been resolved long ago.
The council did pass a motion last week to transfer $550,000 from the landfill remediation account to the storm water account, but that's purely a case of taxing for one purpose and using the funds for another purpose, which isn't cricket by anyone's measure. Money from the landfill remediation account is a charge on garbage bills. The balance has been kept high with the idea that the Department of Natural Resources may yet order a cap on the Rice Lake landfill, but that's increasingly unlikely as the years go by. It has since become a general slush fund.
There's a similar situation of too little too late with the Parks and Street departments merger. There's been a committee working on that proposition for a year, but the skeletal plan was only presented a couple weeks ago, in the middle of the council's busiest budget sessions. Although the merger was approved, few councilmembers were comfortable with the bare-bones proposal, but they had painted themselves into a corner and just about had to merge the two departments to make the 2013 budget work.
In the wings on the Parks-Street merger proposal is the question of privatizing cutting the city's 200 acres of grass in various parks. That task was put out on bids. Those bids are in, but they have yet to be evaluated, approved, or compared to the current costs of the job.
Suspect, too, is the idea that the city will continue to provide the same level of service with fewer employees. Doing more with less sounds great but seldom works. Cutting 10% of a workforce and expecting the same level of service to taxpayers will be a challenge to say the least. We'd be happier with a straight-forward approach that tells people the city is cutting staff and there will be commensurate reductions in services.
While political divisions are healthy, this council has too many of them, rendering it dysfunctional. Similar to the state and national levels, philosophical disagreements and hardened positions have led to gridlock, crippling the council's productivity.

[The editorials that appear weekly in this space are the views of the newspaper as determined by The Chronotype's editorial board. All editorials are written by one or more members of the board, which consists of Warren Dorrance, Sam Finazzo, Gene Prigge and Eileen Nimm.]

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