This time, in an effort to keep our relationship fresh, I’m going to start off with the irony instead of saving it till the end.
On page 12 of the Jan. 31 Kane County Chronicle, a letter-to-the-editor writer lauded Mayor Burns for understanding “the necessity of smaller government” and that during his tenure, “Geneva has reduced its spending significantly.”
Ah! But if you turn just one page of that Chronicle edition, a below-the-fold headline reads “Geneva considers fees to help budget.”
The news story goes on to enumerate the “revenue enhancements” (another new name for taxes) City Manager Mary McKittrick presented to the City Council to help make up for plummeting business district property tax assessments.
And those lovely new taxes might just include vehicle stickers, cat and dog licenses, a storm and sewer maintenance fee, auto rental and license fees, increased commuter parking fees, and much more. McKittrick called it “… a cost recovery approach for all user fees.”
But then she did something that our letter writer, who knows me pretty darned well, wasn’t silly enough not to do. McKittrick said, “We’ve done a pretty good job of cuts,” citing “city spending has been cut by $4 million over the past three years.”
And that’s what drives me absolutely nuts. No, you haven’t! The city of Geneva hasn’t even done a mediocre of making cuts.
First, “cutting” $4 million from a $75 million budget over three long years comes out to less than 2 percent per year. A Geneva resident making 50 grand would do far better by simply eliminating his $150-a-month cable bill.
Geneva hasn’t made one job cut in the last three years. Not one! Nada, nil, naught, nothing, bupkis, zip, zero, zilch.
Even McKittrick admitted what she calls “cuts” actually consist of a management wage freeze, deferred capital projects, extending the life of computers and vehicles, refinancing debt, and staff reductions by attrition.
Not choosing to spend money you haven’t spent yet is not a cut.
While these are certainly worthy efforts, they’re the absolute minimum we should expect from any reasonable municipality these days. A headline in the Feb. 2 Trib Local supplement blared, “Facing budget gap, Elgin lays off 19 employees.” And they’ve already cut 100 city workers.
But we haven’t laid off a single soul. Not one! While I hate to see anyone lose their job, I’m getting really tired of paying for some municipal folks to be able to enjoy the lifestyle to which I’d like to become accustomed.
The city hired Kramer Tree Specialists to handle tree trimming and leaf pickup, and there were no public works cuts. We just spent a half a million dollars on a brand new citywide computer system, to supposedly streamline the process, and there were no staff cuts. The city is now outsourcing cemetery upkeep, but there will be no staff cuts.
And if there are no staff cuts, then we’re not really talking about cuts, are we, because 75 percent of the city budget is personnel expenses.
Since city administrators are so fond of comparing our water rates to Batavia whenever they want to raise them, let’s do a similar comparison on city staffing levels. Our sister cities employ six staffers per 1,000 citizens, while we sit at seven. Using their own logic, that means we could let 21 city personnel go tomorrow.
That would save us at least $2 million in salary, benefits and pension costs. Now, that would be a cut!
Let’s talk about employee benefits. We, the people, underwrite 80 to 90 percent of city employees’ health insurance costs. The city’s own insurance broker stood before the aldermen and called those kind of benefits the “Cadillac benefits package.”
McKittrick also told the City Council they reduced “the scope of health benefits,” but that isn’t a cut. A cut would be implementing the Ford Taurus health plan while asking staffers to foot half the bill.
Did you know that not only does Geneva provide some city employees with a car allowance, but that car allowance counts toward their pension benefits? Considering the compounding nature of pensions, eliminating both practices would actually be a cut!
Let’s take it step further, since Tri-com already handles all Tri-Cities emergency calls, why follow that example by moving all Tri-Cities payroll, human resources, and electrical and water billing under one outsourced roof?
But none of this will ever come to pass because last January, Mayor Burns essentially told the City Council that, while some folks feel that the public sector should feel the economic pain the rest of us have endured, he “for one” does not.
While I certainly admire his willingness to go public with such an unpopular proposition, I for one, disagree. And since the mayor isn’t about to change his position any time soon, it is my right as a Geneva citizen to issue a call for a change.
Thus, I am officially encouraging either Alderman Rich Marks or Dean Kilburg to throw their hats in the 2013 Geneva mayoral ring.
When the city won’t even entertain the notion of making one real budget cut, the mere thought of having to purchase an annual vehicle sticker makes my skin crawl. A fiscally conservative mayor wouldn’t even consider that tax and spend possibility.
On Wednesday, we’ll cover my lengthy discussion with Geneva Township Assessor Denise LaCure and why Geneva should never have been caught with their downtown assessment pants down.