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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

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Economic Shift and Health Insurance

We are in the midst of a slow, and often difficult, economic shift in American society, from generations of manufacturing and assembling (outsourced or downsized), through a period of programming and designing (outsourcing or downsizing), into an era of providing services ("Welcome to Wal-Mart").
Until now, America held most of the trump cards (best educated, most innovative, greatest access to technology and infrastructure) in the global game of economic poker. Unfortunately, most of those cards have been played or squandered and now they are held by Asians, Middle Easterners, South Americans and Eastern Europeans.
The impact of this shift means a number of things, but specifically it means the American consumer will soon realize he has been living well beyond his means: He is demanding more in the global economic market than he is worth to that same market. The catalyst for this is debt, debt and more debt. The result could very well be a shift in the overall standard of living in America as compared to the rest of the world.
One significant challenge we face in this respect is access to health care for the lower class and poor. A handful of readers have been discussing this recently. "Wacko-Jacko" made this point:

listen up, what is all of this blah blah blah about claim this or that? the fact is that there are 11 million illegal immigrants who cannot be denied health care in this country. Where do they go? they have no doctor so they go to the emergency room or urgent cares where the bill has to be absorbed ultimately by the taxpayer. Then there is Walmart. I cannot say how many employees they have locally or nationally, but the vast majority (less management positions of coarse) are on state aided health care because they cannot afford health insurance on walmart wages not because they choose to add "new dubs for the ride" Can you afford insurance on $7 per hour?? Walmart claims to offer insurance, but it is virtually worthless and unaffordable as they aren't willing to pay a fair share to make it affordable. That is why the government is currently debating the "fair share act" for large corporations. Ironic that Walmart is number one on that list.

The university of Berkley did a recent study just in California and the Walmarts out there are costing that state $300 million dollars a year to cover state funded insurance programs from the addition of Walmart employees to their state plans.

I don't have an answer to the uninsured illegal immigrant problem. Certainly this is being debated in Washington, but I'm not sold on either extreme: extending health care on behalf of the taxpayer's dime, or rounding up the illegal immigrants and sending them back to the place from where they came.

As for those legal citizens working at Wal-Mart for $7 an hour unable to afford quality health insurance and not granted that benefit (in most cases) by their employer, why do you so quickly place the onus on the corporation?

Instead, there need to be reforms to the insurance system in America: Increasing deductibles and co-pays, discouraging visits to the emergency room for less serious ailments and injuries that can either be treated at home or delt with during a scheduled visit, and decreasing America's reliance on the drug industry through the use of alternative treatments and preventative care. The result would be premiums that are affordable to the lower and middle classes, and coverage that protects us in the case of expensive and unforeseen emergencies, but leaves us to foot the bill for routine care...the way it ought to be.

This problem seems like a national one, and it is, to be sure. But it also casts its shadow locally, in American everytowns like Beaver Dam. Here, residents are finding it more and more difficult to make ends meet, and each year this gets harder, given the direction of our economy. Many of these taxpaying residents have a difficult time scraping together enough to fill their gas tank, heat their homes and put dinner on the table. Then the property tax bill comes in the mail and they owe another $3500. Certainly they get services and infrastructure in return, but at what level of efficiency? This is the question that we elect our representatives at City Hall, in Juneau and in Madison to answer.

With health insurance costs soaring, and profit margins in the world shrinking, the concept of benefits is disappearing. Just look at those corporations that promised fat pensions...Delphi, anyone? Now compare the past course of the private sector to the current course of government labor agreements and tell me, is yesterday soon enough to start getting it right?

Positive Annual Event in Beaver Dam

At the risk of coming across like the newspaper, here's an email from a faithful reader of the blog:

Spring is here, and it is time again for the annual Sewing Weekend at Nancy's Notions. You can expect to see anywhere from 4,000 to 7,000 people attending this three day event. Motels within a 50 mile radius of Beaver Dam are booked solid for these visitors who come from all over the United States, Canada, and even out of the country! It is a great time for these ladies and gentlemen who come to our City and enjoy the speakers and teachers, along with the vendors who are here to give to meaning and ideas to the avid sewer and quilter. This event is one of the largest events held in our city.

You will see many people get lost finding their way around our City. Be cordial to these people, as Beaver Dam people are known to be. Help them find where they are going. The friendliness of our citizens is what keeps bringing these visitors back year after year.

If you have never attended this event, I strongly encourage you to do so. Nancy and her staff have planned another great year.....and being a resident, you should take advantage of seeing what a great business she has and the friendly service you receive each and every time you are in the store, not just during this weekend.

Let's show our visitors what a truly wonderful city we live in!

Hope all you bloggers will come on May 4-6 to Sewing Weekend, located at Nancy's Notions. You won't be sorry you did. And don't forget to visit the Seippel Center
to see the wonderful display they have with textiles and fibers!

Normally this isn't the type of message you'd find posted on this blog, but this reader makes a good point:

We have had many issues in the past weeks in the Blog that show negativity and harshness. It is time for the people to realize that we do have many positive events here, and that they should be as supportive of them as they are negative to other subjects

This is very true. There's no doubt that Beaver Dam and Dodge County are great places to live, and for all the criticism of various aspects of life that are scattered about on this blog, the majority of us choose to live here because we wouldn't want to live anywhere else.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Encouraging news from Madison

The idea of limiting local government spending through some sort of Taxpayer Protection Amendment is not a perfect solution to today's problem of bloated budgets, but it is a step in the right direction.

However, a proposal by Assemblyman Jeff Wood strikes a significantly closer blow to the real source of the problem: Controlling the cost of labor agreements.

A recent editorial in the Beloit Daily News does a nice job summarizing Wood's proposal and is worth taking the time to read.

The editorial describes Wood's proposal as a "shot across the bow" to local municipalities and bargaining units. This is true. Even if this bill does not pass, these targeted groups need to take note: the days of 7-10% annual compensation are over. The public is waking up to your games and we're not going to allow you to mortgage the future of our communities for the sake of peace at the bargaining table and overflowing retiree pensions accounts.

Finally, the editorial also points out the need for reform of the current mediation-arbitration process. As has been discussed on this blog in recent weeks, school districts like Beaver Dam need to resist offering the QEO, a move that effectively outspends revenue, and ride out negotiations all the way to arbitration. But, given the current system, it's somewhat understandable why a board would resist taking this step. Still, until and unless boards start going to arbitration in lieu of offering the QEO, the slow bleed reserve funds will continue until one day a "For Sale" sign appears on the front lawn of the High School.

Oregon getting a good one

So Dr. Brian Busler is leaving Beaver Dam. Here's a comment he posted to this blog:

In the spirit of continuous learning, I've accepted a new position as the Superintendent of the Oregon School District effective July 1, 2006. It was a difficult decision to make because of the great staff, Board of Education, and the Beaver Dam community. The Oregon School District will provide me with several unique opportunities that allow me to continue my professional growth and learning. The district serves 3,600 students in six schools and has a reputation for being outstanding and progressive. As I reflect on my years in Beaver Dam, I'm reminded of the spirit of collaboration, a willingness to work together, and a focus on educating all students to maximize their learning potential. I will always have great memories of you and the Beaver Dam Unified School District. I wish you the best in the years to come and look forward to working with you over the next several months. I've always felt it was a privilege and an honor to work in Beaver Dam and I'm confident that a promising future lies ahead!

Brian Busler

District Superintendent

There's little doubt that the administration and school board in Oregon saw in Brian what many of us here in Beaver Dam did: a dedicated, education-first district leader who was caught in the crossfire of a battle between the teacher's union and the school board.
Beaver Dam will be very lucky to find someone with Brian's ability and focus in the months to come. In the meantime, who's watching the hen house while the foxes are playing?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Moving in two directions

Last week's election results will almost certainly send the City of Beaver Dam and the Beaver Dam School District in opposite directions.

Of course, the re-election of Jack Hankes will keep the city focused on the necessary task of streamlining operations from a cost standpoint, giving Beaver Dam a competitive advantage when compared to other municipalities that have yet to "get the message."
As for the Alderpersons, I know very little about Mary Flaherty 's background, other than that she as on the Council in the 90's. Mike Nelson has in recent months, started to buy into Hankes' ideas, and his loss is a shame.
Ron Andrews understands the mission of this Council and will fit right in.
Mick McConaghy has slowly warmed up to the idea of fiscal responsibility vis a vis run away employee compensation packages. Steve Sabatke certainly would have been on board with these ideas, but all is not lost with McConaghy's reelection.
Don Neuert seems committed to the ideals of fiscal conservativism and has made a real effort in recent months to familiarize himself with the issues and the residents of his ward. The 10th Ward made the right decision here.

As for the School Board, there was little doubt after the primary that the "troika" was going to take the election, and they did.
However, now that these WEAC candidates in fiscal conservative's clothing are in place, one can only hope that the remaining board members will prevent the troika from doing as much damage as they perhaps could.
There's a great chance that Superintendent Brian Busler and Business Services Director Scott Ecker will leave the district in the weeks to come, leaving Beaver Dam with a leadership void. Most members of the community at large don't realize that Busler and Ecker both understand the cause of the district's budgetary problems: out-of-control employee compensation packages.

The first step towards fixing this problem in today's economic climate is to resist offering the QEO to the teachers (a mechanism which will, in time, bankrupt school districts given the current economic climate) and instead fight the unions through negotiations all the way to arbitration. Taking into account the state's school funding caps, and considering the resident's unwillingness to allow the district to exceed those caps through referendum (and rightly so) the Board has a very strong case to hold compensation increases to less than the QEO.
But, with the new makeup of the board, will there be enough backbone to get this done? Not likely. The troika has its sights set squarely on the administration without any other effective ideas on how to cut spending. Once Busler, Ecker and others are gone, the fox will be left roaming free in the hen house...and that's not "putting children first."

Friday, April 07, 2006

Influential blog?

Comments recently posted on this blog have attempted to blame/credit (depending on your perspective) the Dam Insider for Beaver Dam Mayor Jack Hankes' recent re-election.

Does this author support the majority of Hankes' political initiatives? Yes. Was it the intent of this author to help Hankes gain re-election? No.

My goal in writing about the topics I do is to help decipher that which is happening in local government, to go beyond the scope of the local news media, and in doing so, inject my opinion in the analysis of local government actions.

This and other blogs have been blasted by some for being irresponsible. Of course, as an anonymous author I understand why readers question my writing. I would too. As critical thinkers, we should question all that we hear and read before accepting or discarding the merits of the message.

Like any private citizen, I have certain responsibilities in my life that prevent me, at times, from offering much to this blog. It is my intent to continue what I believe has been a sweeping success. Tuesday's election is not the sunset on my work here, but rather another milepost along the highway.

To the many readers who disagree with my message, "stick around." Your contributions have been invaluable in creating an environment in which local politics is critically debated. And that environment is what forces local politicians to consider seriously the impacts of their actions.