If it weren’t for those pesky restraining orders, seven Geneva councilmen would soon learn exactly how it feels to be kissed squarely on the lips by an overenthusiastic opinion columnist. And 3rd Ward Alderman Dean Kilburg is the first one I’d want to catch under the mistletoe. (Don’t worry, Ron, you’re next!)
As a result of a Kilburg-incited City Council insurrection, on Monday night, our aldermen actually voted to hold the property tax line! Sure, this dip in the proposed levy adds up to only a $10 annual savings on a $300,000 home, but when it comes to striking a blow against the municipal mindset, we all know that size doesn’t matter.
That said, as those of you who’ve been following along on Channel 10 can readily attest, that dreaded municipal malady certainly threatened to dash the hopes of tax-weary Genevans everywhere.
It started during last week’s initial discussion with 2nd Ward Alderman Bob Piper comparing the move to eliminate the proposed $10 increase to “picking fly (poop) out of pepper.” The alderman always has had a way with words.
Then on Monday night, 5th Ward Alderman Craig Maladra, giving what I suspect was actually the mayor’s speech, said, “This is what we’re talking about here folks, $10 for the entire year … Does that $10 really lessen the economic impact to a homeowner?”
Some folks just love to spend other people's money, don’t they? I wonder if there’s a 12-step program for that?
But to answer Maladra’s rhetorical question, “Yes it does!,” because it never ends with just $10. First, it’s a $50 2010 property tax increase, then it’s a 5 percent water-rate hike with another to follow, the base water-meter charge is going up, the price of garbage stickers has gone up, Geneva’s utility taxes have gone up and so on and so on.
Before you know it, these “fly poop” city tariffs add up to a real amount that can force a family facing chronic unemployment to choose between a prescription medication and paying tribute to the city of Geneva.
What Piper, Maladra and the mayor can’t seem to comprehend is, as is often the case at this time of year, it’s the thought that counts! The fact that the City Council essentially told us, “We get it! We won’t ask you for as much because we know you’re tapped out,” made me stand up and salute cable Channel 10.
You see, sometimes a symbolic gesture, even one this small, can actually restore your faith in the political process. Being heard and acknowledged by the very folks you voted into office can be a magical thing.
Maladra and Piper also regularly referenced the plethora of “cuts” Geneva’s already had to endure. Sorry guys, but what you call “cuts” I call “reduction by attrition.” The truth is, Geneva hasn’t even begun to make cuts. Simply leaving positions vacant and comparing budget-to-budget line items instead of actual expenses doesn’t even begin to add up to the kind of cuts Geneva should be considering.
For example, would someone please explain exactly why our spiffy new half-million-dollar computer system won’t make some city jobs redundant?
But what really surprised me is, despite his bid for higher office, Mayor Burns twice cast the vote that kept the higher tax levy alive for another week.
At the Dec. 5 City Council meeting, aldermen first voted 5-4 in favor of the levy reduction, but because 5th Ward Alderman Ralph Dantino was undergoing experimental cancer treatment (Get well soon, Ralph!), the mayor was required to weigh in, twice tying the score.
On the one hand, you have to give Mayor Burns credit for having the courage to keep the levy conversation alive for another week. The expedient thing to do would’ve been to make political hay while the sun shines by voting for the lower levy number with a flourish.
"Ta daaa! I win!"
On the other hand, this action calls into question Burns’ claim of being a “fiscally conservative mayor.” When given the opportunity, fiscally conservative mayors don't vote for the larger of two tax hikes.
With Piper absent and Dantino attending by phone, only two councilmen opposed the lesser levy, 3rd Ward Alderman Dawn Vogelsburg and, of course, Maladra. But once the new number passed, the final vote to accept it was unanimous.
It may not happen very often, but any time a government body manages to shake off the effects of the municipal mindset, no matter how brief it might be, it’s well worth noting.
And while this symbolic effort may be just a start, by clearly announcing “we’re not spending any more of your money,” it may well be the best Christmas present the City Council could give the citizens of Geneva.