Notes from the “Lunatic Fringe”


I love being called “lunatic fringe” by a City Council member. I really do. Let them show the world how far this body has fallen in matters of decorum and discipline. Let them demonstrate how much they despise the people they are supposed to be representing. Folks ought to know exactly who’s responsible for running this city into the ground through ignorance, arrogance and denial.

My lunacy at last night’s Council meeting comes after the jump.

The following are remarks I prepared for the public hearing on the FY2011 proposed budget plus whatever off-the-cuff additions I can remember. It’s not an exact transcript but it’s close.

[Salutation.] The FY2011 budget proposal is scary to me, because it’s built on prayers. In order for this budget to work, you’ve got to pray that the state comes through with its share of the revenues, and that NIU doesn’t have to make major layoffs. You’ve got to pray that the prices of gas and salt don’t go up. You’ve got to pray that nobody sues us for multiples of a million, that Council will pass two tax hikes, and that a water tower doesn’t spring a big leak. You’ve got to pray that your major revenue projections are in the ball park, and that you can keep the lid on overtime in the face of staff shortages.

Even if the budget gods grant all of your prayers, with this plan you still won’t have enough money by the end of the year to buy the squad cars and the liability coverage we need. Prayer will not take the place of Council’s fiduciary responsibilities to approve a realistic budget that covers the basics and affords some protection from contingencies. I urge you to reject this budget proposal and direct a return to the drawing board.

What we need is a survival budget. The survival budget should be based on preserving our core services of police, fire, water, streets, and safety net support, while making deep cuts in expenditures that are not directly related to core services and providing a buffer for contingencies. Here are my ideas for a Survival Budget plan.

Step 1 would be to reduce compensation, increase health plan contributions and eliminate goodies such as car allowances for all non-contractual employees, and to insist on the same types of cuts for others as contracts come up for renewal. [Something here about eliminating double-digit “Step” program raises.] Step 1-½ would be not to approve employment contracts for more than one year at a time until we reach a level of stability.

Step 2 would defer special projects and equipment purchases for departments and programs that are not directly related to public safety, such as I&T, the Forestry program, and yes, the Municipal Band.

Step 3 would place a one-year freeze on expenditures for capital improvements not directly related to core services, for example the airport.

Step 4 would reduce allocations to economic development organizations that are not producing adequate returns on investment.

Step 5 would involve a team to serve as a fine-toothed comb to question single expenditures, such as the inexplicable doubling of the marketing budget.

Last but certainly not least, Step 6 would be to commit to further utilizing the Financial Advisory Committee for brainstorming and practical advice in implementation of a Survival Budget and the restructuring it would entail.

Mayor, Council: In May of 2008, a small group of informed and interested residents requested deeper cuts and improved priorities. They were ignored and a year later, we were facing layoffs. In May of 2009, a similar group made the same plea and was again brushed off, and now the situation is dire. I hope the third time’s the charm; otherwise, next year we could find ourselves in a hole that takes a generation to climb out of.

Thank you.

I was reluctant to include the “we told you so part” but ended up doing so for the newbies, for whatever it’s worth.

Here are a couple more random observations:

Unfortunate focus: The one totally taboo subject when it comes to the budget seems to be compensation, which of course is the most important piece for saving jobs short-term and for long-term viability.

Fact check: Alderman Naylor says no equipment expenditures have been made for several years. Mr. Naylor: 1. Community Development SUV. 2. Airport FOAM TRUCK.

Stay tuned: Several of the Fairview neighbors spoke against forced annexation, and they’ll be back in force June 14 for the hearing. Two factions, the “no truck route” group west of S. 4th and the “Nestle” faction east of it, had tight organizations in their last fights and are reconstituting with ease. It should be an awesome showing.