Citizen Wausau

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Bacon on the 400 Block

by on February 5th, 2009

I want to be up front about this.  I have very little knowledge about the budget processes of government agencies.  We are in the midst of some hand wringing at the federal level, and being a fan of the local budget, I was looking through the local meeting minutes regarding the 400 Block.

So, I started asking some questions.  I really was unsure of the nature of the 400 Block anymore, and as such, I needed to revisit it.  I first had to remember how long ago this all started.  Did you know the first submission of a plan was three years ago?  This plan was put together for the city, by the city, and THEN sent out to consultants.  A Common Council subcommittee that worked with the Parks Department put together a plan for the block.  A proof of working concept.

I want to state that again.  The subcommittee worked with employees of the City of Wausau, people who are professionals in the park and recreation area, who work here, who are already on the city payroll, and they all put together a plan.  In that, they had a plan, a vision, a goal, an idea, a concept of what people who live in the city would want, drafted by people who live and work in the City of Wausau. According to a source within the Park and Rec department, the rough cost of said design was between 600 and 800 grand.  For sake of discussion here, let us put a thumbtack in 800 thousand dollars, simply for discussion sake.

After that, the City sent the design that our in-house parks professional did out to consultants.  It is fair to say that this consultant or firm got paid for their work.  To reiterate, it appears that someone, an employee of the city, worked with the City Council to come up with a plan for the 400 Block.  The Council Subcommittee was involved, and they approved it.  Then, the Council approved it.  So there was a lot of approval by this point.  Then, after this wave of approval, it went to a consultant.  Sure, we can use the word CONCEPTUAL DESIGN all we want, like they do in the minutes, but it appears that everyone liked the idea.  The plan seemed to go to a consultant to get polished, maybe transferred into a technical rendering. I trust that there must be concrete reasons like liability or something for a design to be sent to others, a design agreed on by the council and developed by the people who would be building it.
So, it is my reading of this story that now the plan has once again returned.  This time the price tag is $907,500.  This comes from a man named Terry Kittson from Becher-Hoppe.  According to minutes from a committee meeting, Mr. Kittson says that the cost could go to $1,357,500 with improvements.

I asked the source at the Parks department what these additional costs were.  They made mention of a cover for the stage, a sound system and other items.  So, it is my understanding that when the media talks about pork in appropriations bill, it comes down to adding items into a useful and needed appropriation bill that might be seen by some as extra spending.  Bridges to nowhere towers to celebrate obscure historical figures.

I am sure that someone needs all these items that have been added.  But without a proper accounting of them, as they do not appear in the minutes of the committee meeting, how are we to know what they are?  Are we to take it on faith that the committee is not buying a Corvette or espresso makers for their whole family?  One of the ideas brought forth in the video played at City Council meetings is transparency, and this seems to be a little bit foggy.

I also have a question about the representation on the Ad Hoc committee.  It is my understanding the largest use of the 400 Block is the Concerts on the Square that are put on by the City Pages.  Yet, no one from the City Pages is represented at these meetings.  In full disclosure, I do freelance for the City Pages, but am not a staff member.  Would it not make sense to include the largest user of the square?

In a personal note, it appears that Sherry Abitz has reversed her “supporter of the teens” role.  In this meeting she highlights a need to have anti-skateboard measures on the railings. In fairness, most skateboarders are teens.  I question if this is another way for the committee created by Janet Herring to ban downtown skateboarding to revitalize itself.  I surely hope not.  There is no need to single out a group, skateboarders, in advance and design something with anti-skateboard measures.  It is less than inviting to read a city councilperson make such a point.  What shall be done to ban fast moving bicycles?  Or skydivers from landing here?

The 400 Block is a community gem.  The Concerts on the Square are the shining beacon showing the true nature, and openness of our community.  Nice people and families getting together, sitting around talking and laughing with kids playing, and some folks playing music.  This is the utopian idea that we need to keep going.  This is the best of Wausau.
This long, drawn out process is painful to read about, painful to listen to, and even more painful to think about.  No one will ever make everyone happy, no governing body could ever achieve that, but what they can achieve is inclusion and transparency.  In this case, a little explanation and frugality would not hurt.  We have gone from $800,000 to over $1.3 million.  In today’s world, we need to pursue the answer as to why.  Are we spending ourselves into a hole?  Should we not put money into the bank, instead of taking it out?


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