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Inside the Beaver's Dam

The Dam Insider is keeping an eye out for you, tracking the elected leaders of Beaver Dam, Dodge County, Wisconsin and beyond. Email your thoughts or tips. Emails may be published unless otherwise requested. Requests will be honored.

Location: Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, United States

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Candidates Forum

Two things are worth watching during this evening's candidates forum at the American Legion in Beaver Dam:

1. I've said it for a while, "The troika of Jorgensen, Kirst and Berkvam are nothing but WEAC wolves in spending restraint sheep's clothing." Berkvam is a former teacher with an ax to grind when it comes to administrators; Jorgensen is an outspoken far-left liberal and Kirst is a former teacher whose wife is a current teacher and sits on the union's negotiating team!" I'm absolutely stunned that so many residents who call themselves fiscal conservatives have been deceived by the troika's plan to slash administrative costs and stop well short of pressuring the union to back off their outrageous annual compensation demands. If the troika gets its way, the district will be little but a headless chicken.

2. Who emerges among the candidates for Alderman as potential leaders in the ongoing effort to reign in runaway personnel costs in the city.

One thing we do know is that the outcome of the Mayor's race is clear as crystal. Residents are in lockstep with Mayor Hankes' long overdue plan to get a handle on government spending, and it might just be in the nick of time.

Turn out (7PM) or tune in (1430 AM) tonight, or log on (tomorrow) for the show.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Flawed argument about police, firemen, teachers...

Oftentimes public sector unions will play to our emotions when trying to convince us that their members deserve more money. "If you fail to support pay raises for teachers then you don't support children's education; If you fail to support pay raises for firefighters then you're willing to live in a community in which burning homes go unextinguished; and if you fail to support pay raises for police..." Well, for the rhetorical response to that last scenario, read this comment that was recently posted on this blog:

for anyone who feels that a police officer is over paid ask your self one question. How much money is your life worth and how much should you be paid to possibly give your life to someone you don't even know. If it happens once in a police officers career, which i'm sure it will! There is no amount of money for that one time that an officers life is put on the line. If you think police are over paid then why are you not out there doing there job? No one seems to mind paying our sports hero's the big pay checks when we should be looking at our own police as the real hero's. Maybe a thank you for a job well done the next time you see a police officer?!
If you understand market economics you know this: it's a cold, hard truth that every life has a price. And when we consider risking our lives, to varying degrees, in exchange for compensation, we measure that risk and act accordingly.

High rise construction workers, heavy machinery operators, telephone linesmen, pipe fitters, commercial pilots, truck drivers, military personnel, firefighters and police officers are only a few examples of the many professions in which lives are risked. Death or severe injury on the job is almost never anticipated, rather each day there is only a slim chance they may occur.

It's no different than the insurance industry. Actuaries gauge the chances that you'll wreck your car, your house will catch fire, or you'll suffer a costly injury or contract a debilitating illness. They use these "odds" to determine the insurance premium you'll pay.

When a man or woman chooses to become a police officer, he or she knows there are risks involved. These risks are affected by many factors: location, job duties, physical and mental skills and preparedness, etc. The prospective officer also knows the compensation involved. Like an actuary, that person will weigh the risks (as well as a number of other factors) against the compensation before determining if he or she will go forward with that career.

There are tens of thousands of police officers in this country. There are hundreds of millions of tax payers who pay for the services these officers provide. These two groups comprise the marketplace for police services.

If the citizen's demand for police protection increases, compensation should rise. If the number of people willing or able to work as police officers declines, compensation should rise.
These are the forces that work to determine professional compensation, and they apply to all fields.

Why are top sports athletes paid millions of dollars a year? Very few can perform their service, and a vast many demand them.

Why are lawyers and doctors paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year? Very few people are willing to spend the time or exert the effort, nor have the ability to gain the education these professions demand. If groups like the AMA or ABA lowered their professional standards, requiring only a high school diploma and 3-months training to earn a license, pay would fall precipitously and the number of people becomming doctors and lawyers would skyrocket.

Why are teachers, cops and firefighters paid less than athletes, doctors and lawyers? Even though most of us demand their services, many more of us can, and do, provide them.

Friday, March 17, 2006

A little perspective

This graph depicts Beaver Dam's budget history and the stunning increase in the share of spending allocated toward fire and police. It may be difficult to read, but the upward sloping line on top is "Public Safety." The scale on the left is the percentage of total O&M spending allocated towards a specific sector. Public Safety received about 23% of O&M spending in 1975. By 2005 that figure increased to 45%.

By contrast, outlay spending, or spending on infrastructure improvement projects, was at 20% in 1975, peaked at 23% in 1980, and has since plummeted to 3%!!

Do we live in a more dangerous world today than we did 30 years ago? Certainly. But, has the Public Safety sector been treated as a sacred cow come budget writing time? Absolutely.

No one is interested in sacrificing safety for the sake of a few dollars savings on their property tax bill. However, that should not be confused with demanding accountability in government spending, and that includes Police and Fire. It's time we (residents, politicians, city employees) take a hard look at how tax money is being spent. Too much is going towards Cadillac pensions, health insurance and other benefits, and far too little is being spent on equipment, projects and supplies.

If the trend illustrated above continues, the day will come when police officers have empty holsters and firefighters walk to the scene of the fire...but they'll have a great retirement plan.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Cop's budget scrutinized

Members of Beaver Dam's finance committee have recently asked the city's Police and Fire Commission to examine ways to slash $90,000 from the PD's budget for 2006. According to Police Chief Gary Cox, this would result in a reduction in personnel.

I'm no public safety expert, but a staff reduction doesn't have to strike right at the heart of patrol cops or detectives. Certainly, the first staff to be scrutinized would include secretarial and dispatch types. The pressure to cut costs will (and should) lead the Commission to seriously consider consolidating dispatch services with Dodge County, and secretarial work with the County or the rest of the city.

But, the problem here is larger than this cut. The problem is clearly the compensation increases "negotiated" by past City Councils (and some of you think it is unwise to spend a little extra per hour on a labor attorney who understands the impact of 7 and 10% annual compensation increases). Eventually, past annual increases in employee compensation without equal increases in productivity had to catch up with the city. Now they have and it's painful for many. I sympathize with city employees who are unsure about their future. This is real life, and the money and benefits they recieve support families. But believe me, this is just the beginning and it will get worse before it gets better. It's affecting the city, the school district, and eventually will bankrupt the county if things don't change in Juneau.

The bigger problem (excessive annual personnel cost increases) will not be solved until the short term fixes (cuts in services and personnel) become painful enough that fiscally responsible politicians are elected ubiquitously and the public demands responsible bargaining by the unions.

As we know, not everyone is on board with this plan however, as a recent email from a high ranking city official illustrates:

I am irate! How can these alderpersons from the Finance Committee actually believe that the police department will be able to cut $90,000 out of their budget without the cut of personnel? Do they not realize that the shifts are down to three officers....occasionally you get lucky and have four on a shift.

The one thing that the council has said all along is that our safety services would not be affected, but now they want a $90,000 cut out of that budget and it would mean cutting personnel. How pompous can they be?

Obviously these men didn't do any type of ride along with the Police to see what their shifts are like, and if they did, they soon forget the duties of these officers.

Come on guys, let's get real! Safety should be your biggest concern. The councils before you have screwed up, and now you want to put the public safety in harms way! More of a reason to move out of the city.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Out of gas

17 State Senators did the right thing Thursday by voting to postpone a vote on AB15, the Ethanol Mandate proposal. The move essentially kills the bill for the rest of the session, and unless there is a significant shift in public sentiment on this proposal, it will remain on the shelf indefinitely.

Juneau Republican Scott Fitzgerald was one of the 17 who voted to kill the bill, although had there been enough support to actually vote on the bill itself, Fitzgerald would have been on board, swayed (others would have used a stronger word there) by the farmers in his district.

But for now, we consumers still have the freedom to choose what type of fuel we purchase. Ironic that "fiscal conservatives" in the legislature considered taking that freedom away.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Is there a better way?

Special assessment for street repair has always seemed out of line to me.

There was a time, decades ago, when those who lived on the most frequently traveled roads in a community benefited from inflated property values, compared to homes located more “out of the way.” Means of transportation then weren't as great as they are today and being located just a block or two from the grocery store or pharmacy was a real benefit.

Today, being located on a busy street (North Center, Spring or University, for example) will drive down the value of your home. Yet, these homeowners, in the long run, end up paying much more for street repairs because the community at large uses “their road” so heavily. By comparison, those who live in rural subdivisions face road reconstruction much less frequently, thus weathering a much lower long-term cost of special assessment.

I am not one who generally supports socialist-like methods of cost sharing across members of a community, but in the case of road reconstruction we’re talking about a public good: Something for which the frequent users can not viably be billed. In a perfect user fee world you would be billed each month for every street you've driven, probably tracked by some high tech GPS satellite system. Funds from these bills would be deposited directly into accounts for each road’s eventual reconstruction. But, that system is the stuff of Buck Rogers, and won’t likely be realized in our lifetime, so we do the best with what we have.

I agree with the homeowners on North University Avenue that being assessed such a large portion of the cost of street repair for a street that is so frequently used by fire/ambulance/police and city residents seems unfair. A better system would have the cost of street repairs in the city being paid entirely by property taxes, since (nearly) all of us use roads to get around every day.

However, precedent and the law is so firmly on the city's side in a case like this, it would take Common Council visionaries to exact such a change.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Street Assessments

This summer the City of Beaver Dam will shut down a portion of North University Avenue in order to rebuild the roadway. As is the case with street reconstruction, the homeowners along the Avenue will be billed for a portion of the work (in this case, 44% of the cost of the work). The amount each homeowner is billed is based on the amount of frontage he or she has. I received this email from a homeowner along North University who's looking for your help:

We property owners on University Avenue have been notified about an "estimated special assessment" for improvements on our street this summer. The cost per average 50' lot of frontage is about $5000.00 per home owner. Some are more, $8500.00 for a 90" lot, and some are less, $2900.00 for a 38" lot. This is approximatly 44% of the total cost, for each lot owner. Many of us are wondering if this is equitable, considering that the street is a major artery for, among others, the hospital, BD Fire and Rescue and Police, trucking traffic, and other non-residential usage. While we are not against needed improvements, we would like to prepare ourselves for the special Council meeting coming up on March 9th, 2006. If there are appropriate resources that anyone is aware of, to help us better present our concerns to the Council, we would appreciate any input.
Thank you in advance.

Anyone with suggestions, resources or opinions can either post them by clicking the "Comment" link below, or by emailing me

Thursday, March 02, 2006

One for Mayor, one for Governor. What about the County?

It would appear that a month from now Beaver Dam Mayor Jack Hankes will take a landslide victory over labor candidate Jim Yaroch. A little more than four months later, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker will be in a tight battle with Congressman Mark Green to earn the Republican nomination and the right to face Jim Doyle in November for governor.

While the contrast in these two fiscal conservative's political futures is clearly evident, so are the similarities in their political beliefs.

According to a story in Wednesday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Walker is calling for a

rollback of retiree benefits and for aid from state taxpayers and lawmakers to help stave off "potential insolvency."

In a series of comments that could be seen by regular readers of Inside the Beaver's Dam as having come from Mayor Hankes, Walker says

we need to address the problem now or it just compounds every year. We don't want to end up like United.

Walker's proposals for Milwaukee County's budget woes include:

Special state legislation allowing the county to void parts of contracts with labor unions and county vendors - part of a strategy he likens to private-sector "workout" plans by auto industry giants such as GM and Ford, and survival cost-cutting by Midwest Airlines.

An end to state-mandated county spending for courts and prosecutors, now supported by both state and local dollars.

Changes in a county ordinance that Walker says blocks the county from charging any monthly health care premium to nearly 6,000 of its retired employees. (This year, the cost of insuring Milwaukee County's retired employees will outpace that of those who actually work for the county.)

Beaver Dam is certainly pointed in the right direction, especially with Hankes at the helm. Many municipalities, philosophically, are light years from confronting these issues, and in the end, those taxpayers will pay the price.

If only we could find a Scott Walker to lead Dodge County.