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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, May 31, 2006

Striking a nerve

The recent Police and Fire Commission posting has generated plenty of reader comments:

"Can't tell me Beaver Dam residents won't be paying even if consolidation occurs for dispatch. Just remember, Beaver Dam Citizens do pay taxes for Dodge County also."
- Anonymous 1

You got it right, we do pay taxes to both jurisdictions, making consolidation that much more necessary. McCain said it best with his/her reply: "It would seem wise to be able to tap into the state-of-the-art dispatch center at the sheriff's department, and start using the assets we in the city have already helped pay for."

Why pay for two fully staffed dispatch centers when one would suffice? Certainly not all the current Beaver Dam dispatch employees would be needed at Dodge County, meaning there would be a net savings to the taxpayer.

"To have the highly trained professional men and women who work in both departments protecting my family and property is worth its weight in gold."
- Anonymous 2

Let's be rational for a moment. There's no question that having a highly skilled, timely, and well equipped police and fire department is an extremely high priority for nearly all residents. Still, this doesn't mean these services are priceless. Like any service they have a fair market value. The trick is determining what that is. Nothing should prevent us from exploring ways to maximize efficiency within these departments.

The elephants in the room no one seems to be willing to talk openly about are the collective bargaining agreements and labor unions.

Simply put, until groups like the police and firefighter's unions stop demanding unreasonable salary and benefit packages and get in line with private sector levels of compensation (and this includes the full value of all benefits, so don't start tossing around wage comparisons and think you have a valid argument), the resources available to pay personnel will continue to dwindle. As they do, equipment will only get worse, training will disappear and employees will lose their jobs. The driving force behind the effort to maximize public sector efficiency is over-compensated public employees.

As a side note, one of the many unfortunate (and unmentionable) consequences of the 9/11 tragedy is the impact it has had on the perceived value of police and firefighters. I don't mean this to be callous, rather, I'm speaking economically, and I ask you to evaluate my comments in that light as well.
For as long as there have been police and firefighters, they have put their lives at risk. I talked about this at great length in an earlier post. Those personnel are fully aware of those risks when they enter the career. 9/11 didn't change that risk, it just put a face on it. 9/11 gave police and firefighters hero status in our communities, and while it is a noble profession, it is still a profession and one for in which the employees are well compensated. 9/11 simply made labor negotiations very difficult for taxing entities.

"It would be interesting to know how many of the participants of the blog have actually worked in a dispatch area and have been under the pressures that exist. Sure, sometimes it is slow, but when it is busy, you have to keep a cool head and do what has to be done. If you haven't walked in those shoes,it is easy to criticize."
- Anonymous 3

Here we have strayed from the analytical path and entered the emotional forest. Anonymous 3 is obviously a current or former dispatcher, but his or her comments aren't really germane to the discussion. Whether Beaver Dam dispatchers are able to "keep a cool head and do what has to be done" or not is beside the point. If consolidation occurs, the best BD dispatchers will be hired by Dodge County, and the overall level of dispatch quality will increase while the cost of operations will fall. Again, McCain points out that Beaver Dam taxpayers are subsidizing other county residents for dispatch services and this needs to end. I agree.

(By the way, McCain also referred to the Kettl Commission, a report generated in 2000 at the behest of Governor Thompson. It outlines steps Wisconsin governments should take to maximize efficiency. Read the summary here (pdf).)

Finally, Getoffyourhighhorse left us these nuggets:

"At no point in discussion are (the mayor and some aldermen) talking about the value of (payroll) costs, or "bang for the buck." In the private sector if an employee has been with a company for years they are considered and [sic] asset and are highly trained. Literally hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars are invested in these employees. They are not considered an unusual expense that needs to be gotten rid of, in fact a smart company uses them to propel the company forward.

"...in business you take outsourced tasks and try to bring them "in-house" this keeps costs down and quality up."

"Employees expect to be paid for their work, more work equals more pay"

Recently I wrote about "bang for your buck" when I highlighted the need for efficiency and productivity in government. If government can manage to do the same or better with the same or less, we'll achieve more "bang for our buck." This might include eliminating employees, consolidating departments, and contracting services.

Sometimes businesses in-source work when they determine a contract costs too much. However, the general trend in business has been, and continues to be, outsourcing to maximize profitability.

More work may equal more pay, but a better mantra would be "better work equals more pay." Anonymous's quasi-socialist mindset of "punch the timeclock, pay your dues, and you will be rewarded" is near the heart of the problem with the unionized workforce in America.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Taxation without Representation?

If you live in Beaver Dam, nearly half the property tax you pay to the city is controlled by people over whom you have little or no influence. They are the Police and Fire Commission.

You do not elect the members of the Police and Fire Commission. They are appointed by the Mayor, with Common Council approval, to five year terms.
You can not remove them from office. Only the Common Council can do that, and it requires a hearing followed by a 3/4 vote.

Yet, about 43% of the city's budget is controlled by these five commissioners.

It is commonly held that without some type outside influence (job loss, reprimand, profit motive), people will act according to self-interest. People generally avoid conflict. The Police and Fire Commission has avoided conflict with both public safety departments for years. It is best for the commissioners: They have to sit across from representatives of the police and fire departments at least a couple times each month. When was the last time they sat across the table from you, the taxpayer? Who would they rather serve amicably?

Encouraging efficiency, as I discussed in a recent post, often generates debate which can lead to inflamed tempers and ill feelings...Especially among those who are the source of the inefficiency.

Right now the Police and Fire Commission has two opportunities to encourage efficiency...even create efficiency:

1. Fire Chief Del Yaroch's retirement puts over $100,000 a year in possible savings on the table. The commission has the opportunity to merge the Fire and Police chief positions, relying more on second tier managers who already exercise more hands-on leadership within their departments anyway. (Have you ever seen a $100,000 a year employee spending hours playing solitaire on his office computer? I have. To be fair, I'm not speaking about Mr. Yaroch)

2. Nearly every governmental service is replicated to some degree on multiple geographic scales (e.g. city police, township police, county sheriff, state patrol, federal marshal). This example, one of many, creates inefficiency. Government is ethically obliged to be judicious with our tax dollars (some of our elected leaders are good example if this: DA Bauer, Mayor Hankes, Sheriff Nehls). Exploring opportunities to consolidate government services across geographic scales should be nothing short of mandatory for agents of government. Currently, an opportunity exists to potentially save tens of thousands of dollars by consolidating Beaver Dam police and fire dispatch services within Dodge County. It's really a no-brainer. The few emotional appeals offered by Beaver Dam dispatch personnel, in an effort to portray themselves as irreplaceable, amount to little in the face of the tax saving possibilities. Certainly, county dispatchers are just as able to handle citizen calls of various sorts. Dozens of other communities have realized savings by making this move...It's time Beaver Dam joined the crowd.

Nevertheless, it's doubtful the Police and Fire Commission will act on its own. Operating as it does, far from the public spotlight and with little media attention or scrutiny, it has grown accustomed to appeasing the wants of the police and fire departments.

Today an opportunity exists for taxpayers to contact members of the Police and Fire Commission and demand that they appease your wants.

Commission Members
Nancy P. Conley, Chair
Kris Boucher, Secretary
Casey Carney
Gary Spielman
Tom Meyer

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


To balance the 2006 budget, the Dodge County Board had to resort to pulling money from its reserve fund, starting down a slope that will only become more slippery as time passes.

Tonight the board will consider a series of pay hikes for elected officials. If passed, it would make a taxpayer victory at the next round of labor contract negotiations awfully difficult.

Here are the details:

County Clerk
Current $48,569
2007 $53,742
2008 $59,072
Total 21.6%

County Treasurer
Current $48,569
2007 $53,742
2008 $59,072
Total 21.6%

Register of Deeds
Current $49,115
2007 $53,742
2008 $59,072
Total 20.3%

Clerk of Courts
Current $54,953
2007 $58,318
2008 $61,802
2009 $63,336
2010 $64,922
Total 18.1%

Current $70,427
2007 $76,856
2008 $83,486
2009 $85,566
2010 $87,698
Total 24.5%

(And don't forget, these figures don't even take into account benefit costs)

Back in October a handful of Supervisors (and it's a small hand: Wurtz, Schmidt, Ready and Marose) voted against the negotiated union wage increases. That was in the face of 3% raises that would amount to as much as 5% a year when step increases are factored in.

Now were looking at 7% raises in some cases. There's no excuse for the Board passing this set of pay raises given this economic climate, or nearly any other.

It would amount to robbery.

It's all about efficiency

Efficiency. It's a good word. No, it's a great word.

Efficient (Adj.): Acting or producing effectively with a minimum of waste, expense, or unnecessary effort.

So it involves effectiveness. What does that mean?

Effective (Adj.): Having an intended or expected effect

Certainly we know that anything we do requires some degree of effort or expense or generates waste, right? So efficiency also involves having a minimum of these things.

Minimum (n.): The least possible quantity or degree

So let's rephrase the title of this post:
It's all about acting or producing so as to have an intended or desired effect with the least possible degree of waste, expense or effort.

Boy, that seems like a reasonable goal. How do we do it?

First we must agree on an "intended or desired effect."

Second we must seek methods to "reduce the amount of waste, expense and effort" required to create the "intended or desired effect."

Seems simple enough.

So, (and here's the big question) why does this seemingly simple act generate so much debate?

That's simple too. The answer lies in the definition of "waste, expense and effort."

Often, "waste, expense and effort" are people.

Economists are paid to look at systems without regard for emotion. They are analysts of data. When a system is not operating efficiently they determine the "sticking points:" the points that require excess "waste, expense and effort." Again, often this means people. The economist makes recommendations to increase efficiency and managers act accordingly.
It seems heartless, and perhaps it is.

But, perhaps that's not a bad thing. All that "waste, expense and effort" has to be paid for by, or must impact someone. In private business, customers, shareholders and the environment foot the bill for inefficiency. In the public sector (government), taxpayers take the hit.
Often, this spreads out the pain amongst many, rather than concentrating it on a few inefficient workers, but the total sum of the pain remains the same either way.

Or does it?

Enter "productivity
(n): The rate at which goods or services are produced; especially output per unit of labor

Hmm, that sounds somewhat similar to efficiency. Except now were dealing with rate. Hey, that has to do with time.

So, maybe business or government can do whatever it does faster. They can either do more in the same amount of time, or do the same in less amount of time, or some combination thereof.

Suddenly a light goes on

If we can figure out a way to operate more efficiently (do a job with a minimum of "waste, expense, or effort") and add productivity to the mix (increase the rate of our activity), we'll have a winning combination!

And, if we can do this, the customer, shareholder or taxpayer will benefit more than the inefficient workers will lose.

Thus, the sum of our actions creates a benefit to society. Yes, a benefit.

That's a good thing. No, that's a great thing.

So, back to the big question: Why does efficiency generate so much debate?

Like Soylent Green, my friends, often efficiency is people.

People react when they feel threatened.

And here's the litmus test (write this down, slip it into your wallet, and refer to it as needed):
When leadership pushes for efficiency, those who react most vehemently are the source of the inefficiency.

Your homework: Looks for individuals or groups who have reacted vehemently to attempts to create efficiencies.

And if this post causes you to react vehemently, well...