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Jeff Ward: Hard Truth Is City of Geneva Hasn't Begun to Make Budget Cuts

Geneva hasn't made one single budget cut!

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.

Jeff Ward February 06, 2012 at 08:35 PM
Paul, The whole St. Peter and CTL thing is an example of the truth slowly working it's way out through a very difficult and laborious process. Sometimes journalism works exactly the same way. Jeff
Paul Bryant February 06, 2012 at 08:42 PM
And sometimes journalists write something just for the spectacular headline, later proven false or inaccurate. What's your point?
Jeff Ward February 06, 2012 at 08:47 PM
Paul, Sadly, if, after all of this, the point continues to elude you, then there's no point in continuing this part of the conversation. Jeff
Sarah Lyons February 06, 2012 at 09:19 PM
Have you looked at possibilities on why the city hasn't cut people? Since the city is on a freeze that means they can't hire to replace people who quit, get fired or retire. I'm sure those lose of people and not replacing them has impacted the city budget enough that they may not need to fire people. And when you call for firing people in a city your not just talking about people at city hall, your talking people at public works inclusive of electric and streets dept. By cutting them we will lack in the amazing electric we have and beautiful town we have. I would hate to have electric like com-ed. And how about police an fire. Those people who keep our town safe and make it a place where its ok to keep our doors unlocked. A majority of pur taxes go to the great school system we have but you didnt talk about teachers being fired. Point is that I'm willing to pay a little more for a great town than less for a town like Aurora. And commenting on how people should lose their job is ridiculous, I would never wish that upon anyone. Especially in our current economy. Your asking that a person who may have a family to support be fired just so you don't have to pay a small fee to have a pet!
Paul Bryant February 06, 2012 at 10:28 PM
Your writings for Patch are under the "Opinion" section, not the "Local News" section, and you're changing your opinion from column to column, therefore you're being hypocritical and/or wishy-washy. If you want to be an investigative journalist, be an investigative journalist, but leave your opinion, and ego, out of the story. If you're going to be an opinion blogger, then you need to realize you will be called on it when you flip-flop on an issue.
Jeff Ward February 06, 2012 at 10:44 PM
Paul, When you become one of my editors, I'll have to listen to your thoughts on journalism, but until then... Jeff
Jeff Ward February 06, 2012 at 10:49 PM
Sarah, Let's dismiss the teachers on this one because the city has no control over that process. But what about the Geneva senior citizen on a fixed income? What about the family of four barely staving off foreclosure? Now they're supposed to subsidize city workers who have it far better than most of us theses days? No one's subsidizing the citizens of Geneva. What you're talking about is welfare for city workers. If Geneva families have to live within their means, then so does the city. And it's going to get much worse before it gets better because the decline in property values just accelerated. So are you willing to pay another $1,000 more a year to ensure no city worker is laid off? That's what it might come to. As an aside, I'm guessing you don't live on the west side because the electric there ain't so amazing. Nor is it that great in the downtown. And our electric is Com Ed! We just buy it from them wholesale which does give us a better rate. Police and fire may need to be cut and we may have to do without some city services. If they believe they can keep coming back to the citizens for cash then they will keep coming back to us for more cash. Jeff
Paul Bryant February 06, 2012 at 10:54 PM
Finally something we can agree on - it's a good thing I'm not one of your editors. To quote the comedic genious Steve Martin, "I break with thee, I break with thee, I break with thee", and now I throw dog poop on your shoes.
Jeff Ward February 06, 2012 at 11:26 PM
Dear Tooth, Though those are great questions and I have specific thoughts, sadly, I no longer believe in the tooth fairy. Jeff
Terry Flanagan February 07, 2012 at 12:23 AM
Government financial reporting, whether local or federal, is about as obfuscated as Mitt Romney's positions. There are budget cuts, spending cuts, and savings. Depending upon how you look at it, we're either getting by on less or not. I think most people think of cuts as spending cuts, actual reductions in the amount spent by government versus what was spent in previous years. A budget cut is essentially meaningless, since a budget is only a plan for spending and a revenue forecast. Unless a budget cut is tied to a reduction in fixed expenses, it's not a spending cut. Savings in government occur when something costs less than the amount budgeted for the item. Savings can't really be thought of as spending cuts unless they reduce fixed expenses. It's too easy to budget more for an item than the expected cost and then claim the difference as a cut. I think that when we talk about cuts, we should all be talking about spending cuts alone. Not replacing staff and refinancing debt at a lower interest rate would be legitimate spending cuts, while wage freezes and deferred expenditures would not. Too often government spending reports are like the old joke in which the wife tells her husband she saved them money by buying a dress on sale. It should never be about what we could have spent, but about what we actually did spend and whether we're moving in the right direction.
dave February 07, 2012 at 12:31 AM
Tooth Fairy at least have the decency to use a real name like me, not that Dave is my real name. Signed Not Dave
Sophie Darns February 07, 2012 at 02:20 AM
Clear difference, Pete, is that the city worker with "no college education" = $75,000 salary + benefits. In contrast, a teacher, which requires a college education, = $56,092. See the difference?
Sophie Darns February 07, 2012 at 02:25 AM
Maybe start with checking expenses. Like, you know, credit cards being used for years and years for personal purchases and just by fluke being found to be used for inapproapriateness, ala Steve Lemaire.... Wonder how many more expenses could be cut without even touching staff, just by more accurate and complete accounting.
Bob McQuillan February 07, 2012 at 03:21 AM
Jeff I agree with the point of your column but the average Geneva teacher DOES NOT make $50,000. The average is more like $62-65k plus medical benfits of @ $17 - 21k depending on what policy they choose. All of this information is on www.GenevaTaxFACTs.org. The city information is listed as well. The school board also approved a "vehicle" for the superintendent who lives less than 4 miles from his office. Plus they approved a $10,000 moving allowance that he spent from August 2006 till October 2007. Who in their right mind allows an employee to take 15 months to move? We paid for multiple rental trucks, gas, pizza & tacos during the "move" period. Check it out on www.GenevaTaxFACTS.org. As soon as the bill reached $9,800 the expenses stopped. This surely was not about the children. One more plug for www.GenevaTaxFACTS.org the only place where you can track how EVERY taxing body spends you hard earned tax dollars. Wake up Geneva, your assessed value will continue to drop while your tax bill goes through the roof. Just ask Denise LaCure, looks like Jeff Ward already did! can't wait til Wednesday when the real story comes out. Wonder where the former tax assessor is calling home now?
Justin Eggar February 07, 2012 at 03:50 AM
Level headed and intelligent... I for one would like to see more from Terry Flanagan around these parts.
Bob McQuillan February 07, 2012 at 07:16 AM
"And though I can't find the one where I challenged Tim Moran to be more proactive, he hasn't spoken to me since that column." Jeff Ward Maybe Jeff Ward was the direct cause of Tim Moran's chest pains. Since Jeff knows Tim's board work as president directly led to the chest pains, he should know who or what caused them. Glad to hear you have inside information that the Geneva School Board is planning major announcemnts in the next couple of months. Better watch it because they won't want you to take credit for it. In their opinion, you are only redoubling their efforts to communicate with the residents. A school board members world is a wonderful world to live in. Terry is right, cutting a budget is not cutting an expense. Cutting a budget is a term the school board loves to use. Yep, last year our budget was 70 million, this year it was 77 million but we are cutting it by 5 million to 72 million. So the budget was "cut" by 5 million while expenses went up 2 million. Guess that is the new math. Wake up Geneva, your assessed value will continue to fall and your taxes will go through the roof. Listen to this afternoon's school board meeting. They expect revenues to increase $26 million over the next 13 years. There's that school board members world again - the real estate market is going to rebound in three years and growth wll be 4-6% again. Lets spend and build more schools cause we just know it's coming! www.GenevaTaxFACTS.org - all you need to know.
Jeff Ward February 07, 2012 at 01:03 PM
Bob, And the fact that the D304 budget went up last year shows just how effective FACTS has been! Other than giving folks chest pains, that is. Jeff
nick February 07, 2012 at 02:17 PM
Why is it that you always pick on city workers. I am sorry for those of you out there that we are uneducated, I myself have a degree, and enjoy providing a sustainable service to the people. What service do you provide jeff? You never talk about grocery prices, natural gas, fuel, electricity, clothes, and every other this going up! The public sector will always make the same salary. The private sector when times are good, make way more than the average city worker. Most people to not provide a means for people to live when they go to work, city employees do. It is unfortunate that people have nothing better to do than complain about "uneducated city workers". When in fact there are a lot of city employees that do have degrees and chose this line of work becuase they enjoy providing s service to their city
Jeff Ward February 07, 2012 at 02:24 PM
Nick, I'm not picking on city workers - I'm picking on an administration that will not make the necessary cuts that must include city workers and their benefits. And the days of the public sector coming in second to the private sector, even in good times are long gone. And while a business can choose how to compensate their employees and reap the benefits or consequences of doing so, city revenue comes directly from the taxpayers. It's not up to the Mayor to give them the "Cadillac benefits package." Politicians, left and right, are claiming we have to run government like a business and that means living within your means or you go out of businesses. I'm tired of subsidizing other people, which, by the way, is the big Republican watchword these days until it applies directly to them! Jeff
nick February 07, 2012 at 02:34 PM
I do agree that all government entities can do a better job of spending, and all politician's are crooks and have there own agendas. It is unfair to to say all city employees are paid by tax payers, because they are not. Water departments and if the city runs their own electric utilty, bring in revenue in which those employees are paid out of that budget. If you want, we won't clear the streets of snow, fix deer backups in a timely manner, restore power in a timely manner, and provide unsafe drinking water
Jeff Ward February 07, 2012 at 02:38 PM
Nick, You are correct, water departments are self contained, but the money to pay for that service still comes directly from the taxpayer. And the irony is, because it's a zero sum game, after they told us to conserve water the decreased demand made rates go up! In tomorrow's column I will discuss how property values, which fell 3.5 percent in Chicago in November alone, will lead to even lower assessments and much less property tax revenue. Even if the economy improved tomorrow, that continuing housing crash revenue induced shortfall is coming. The City of Geneva needs to cut $10 million from their budget over the next two years to prepare for it or we'll be the ones paying for it. Jeff
Bob McQuillan February 07, 2012 at 09:43 PM
Jeff This why I love/hate you. You can throw the kitchen sink at someone but when your own words come back to haunt you, you throw the bathroom sink. Please check your budget numbers for the Geneva school district 2010-2011 school year total budget including debt repayment $94 million 2011-2012 school year total budget including debt repayment $93.7 million Debt repayment 10-11 was $13.2 million Debt repayment 11-12 will be $14.6 million Loks like debt repayment increased $1.4 million yet the overall budget decreased $300,000. Even the district has no control over debt repayment - that occurs because bond referendums were passed by voters. Are you ready to say you were wrong about how efective FACTS has been. If you want FACTS to accept responsibility for an increase shouldn't we get credit for a decrease? You might want to check with your inside board contact to get their approval. By the way this information came from the forms that Geneva filed with the state of Illinois. They are posted on the Geneva School District website. Jeff, I learned a long time ago to do my homework and not just throw out my opinion as FACT.
Bob McQuillan February 08, 2012 at 05:28 AM
Jeff Where are you? Did you take your ball and go home? I'm waiting for your response on my comment explaining that you were wrong when you said the budget for the school district increased last year? Aren't you going to answer? I'm really disappoint you would make a statement that you can't back up with FACTS. If you want FACTS not opinion, go to www.GenevaTaxFACTS.org I have still have words left so one more time www.GenevaTaxFACTS.org Just the FACTS Jeff. Just the FACTS Jeff.
Jeff Ward February 08, 2012 at 01:15 PM
Bob, I took it right out of your own post on this thread. It's your own numbers! Unless you made a mistake when you said the budget went up to 77 million. I just went with the fact that that means FACTS is that ineffective. And ain't it funny that while FACTS constantly screams at the school board and accomplishes nothing, but when a columnist starts talking to them behind the scenes they dip into their reserves to lower property taxes! And that's a FACT. Though I made an exception here because of your obvious error, I will no longer respond to bullies. Jeff
Bob McQuillan February 08, 2012 at 02:54 PM
Reread the post. Those numbers were an example of how the school district plays with "we cut the budget." If you are so close to the board, shouldn't you have known last year's budget wasn't $77 million and the board didn't claim to cut 5 million? Maybe you aren't the know all, see all, do all you claim to be. Do you really want us to believe you were the sole reason the board used $3.2 of reserve funds? Are you the sole reason we are $325.6 in debt? Did the board want to name you President but you were too humble to accept? Are you the wizard behind the curtain? Do you really have a pair of red slippers? Is the city going to cut expenses because you told them too? Is Apple going to open a store on State Street because you suggested it? Are you going to be the Mayor without even running for office? Are you the most beautiful man in the Ward World? Are soccer mom's going to rule Ward World because you say they don't roll over and play dead? Will Kiss the Sky stay in Geneva because you buy records there? Are you taking your ball and running home because the bully is after you? The only Yes answer is the last question. This might be a shock to you but the sun doesn't rise every morning because you wake up. You need to start living in the world of reality because your assessed value continues to drop while you taxes rise. That's a FACT. I need to go read www.GenevaTaxFACTS.org to see if you are Marshall for Swedish Days. You hate Swedish Days? Bye
Jeff Ward February 08, 2012 at 04:00 PM
And the bully proves my point again!
Bob McQuillan February 08, 2012 at 04:28 PM
I most certainly do .... the point that your ego overtakes your brain. Thought you didn't respond to bullies? The new Geneva Star www.GenevaTaxFACTS.org We don't need no stink'ng video's or a mention in the GenevaPatch!
Justin Eggar February 08, 2012 at 04:53 PM
You guys are making my eye twitch. Go have a cup of coffee at Grahams / ACK or something.
Jeff Ward February 09, 2012 at 09:19 PM
Betsy, Because Paul and I go way back on that subject and it was a perfect example of how a news story evolved and, as people learned more about the movie scam, how they shifted their viewpoints shifted as a result of that evolution. The CTL "movie producers" were a group of rank opportunists who lied and distorted the truth in an attempt to make money. They and their adherents used discord as a weapon which is unforgivable. Of course, the "movie" never happened because it was a fraud to begin with. Good Christians and Catholics would have called out the folks that attacked the people who supported the real victims, but they chose not to. St. Peter hasn't healed, the folks who were disgusted by the pro-Monsignor crowed just moved on to other parishes. Perhaps it's time to, once again, dig deeper on this subject. You'd be surprised what someone can come up with when they get into the back end of a website. Jeff
Betsy Klingberg February 09, 2012 at 09:40 PM
Oh Mr. Ward if you only knew. Thanks for this.

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