Citizen Wausau

A Site About Life in Wausau, Wisconsin

Voice the official Citizen Wausau blog

A Bad Way to Do Good

by on December 7th, 2012

Recently the City Council of Wausau gave an individual nonprofit $25,000.  These funds were not part of any grant program, not part of any program of any kind.  The City Council simply voted to give a nonprofit a check for money.  The check had no strings attached, no mandatory reporting, no anything.  Just, here you go, here is some money.  In defense of the nonprofit, the Executive Director offered to make some reporting, to offer some structure, but the City Council rejected this and just wrote the check.

Now, I think this is bad policy.  The money is going to the Boys and Girls Club.  This is not about the validity of the Boys and Girls Club; I believe that the Club is a wonderful program, and children are better off with it here.  What I take issue with is this policy.

The City Council has now put the Boys and Girls Club, a private nonprofit on the tax levy.  I had an email exchange with Lisa Rasmussen.  Prior to this move, the City Council and the professional staff had worked hard to not raise the levy (taxes) on people in Wausau.  This single line item alters that, and now the levy is increased.  It is not much, but it is increased.

The increase was completely avoidable.  You see there is a process in place for nonprofits in Wausau to be allocated monies.  The City disperses funds from a federal program, and in the past, this nonprofit has received funds.

Each year nonprofits request funds, and a Citizens Advisory Board selects the groups to get money.  Jim Brzenski sits on this committee.  This recommendation is voted on, and sent to the Finance Committee, who then vote on these funds and these allocations are sent to the Common Council in the form of the budget.  The Council approves or does not approve the budget.

This year was different.  This year the Citizens Advisory Board took requests and made decisions.  The nonprofit in question was not awarded funds.  Brzenski voted on this and affirmed this recommendation at the Citizens Advisory Board level.

These recommendations were sent to the Finance Committee who accepted them, completed their budget work and voted unanimously to submit the completed budget to the Common Council.  This is where we diverge just slightly.  Brzenski was not in this vote on October 22 because he was out on Medical Leave.  A formal public hearing was set for Nov 13th.

Brzenski asked for a special meeting of the Finance Committee prior to the Common Council meeting.  This meeting took place 1 hour prior to the Nov 13th Common Council meeting.  Brzenski return from Medical Leave, and he and Nagle put through a resolution to allocate 25K to the nonprofit.  This was approved 3-2.  Brzenski left the meeting, and it went on without him.

The City Attorney ruled this amendment out of order, and it was removed from the Nov 27th Agenda.

During the final consideration of the budget, Mr. Brezinski and Mr. Nagle made a motion for an amendment to (1) raise property taxes and (2) give $25,000 to the Boys & Girls Club with no strings attached.  That passed by a 6-5 margin and caused the five dissenting votes to oppose the budget as a whole.

No one is doubting the great things that any of our nonprofits do.  They work hard, try to make the better place and do so without, well, profit.  But there is a process in place to disperse funds to them through the city.  This was not it.

In case you are wondering if there are any stipulations on the money, like most grant funds, there are not.  The nonprofit could use his money to buy a hot tub, and the city put no means of oversight in place.

It is in the best interests of municipalities to have healthy and functioning nonprofits within the city ecosystem.  I believe that everyone benefits from their work.  But, I do not believe that Jim Brzenski should have altered the tax levy to give public tax dollars to an individual nonprofit here in Wausau.  This is a problematic precedent.  There is a fair and equitable process that the nonprofits in Wausau know about and take part in.  But, I am not sure how many of them know that they can just lobby a member of the Council, and at budget time the council member can put in a line item just giving the nonprofit a check.

I wonder if that fancy word EAR MARK or PORK BARREL comes into play here, but that might be a rhetorical over reach.

Either way, I believe it was a bad policy move by Jim Bzenski to alter the tax levy to give 25K to a nonprofit outside of the Community Development Block Grant progam.  I am sure that Councilman Brzenski can sleep well at night knowing he helped a worthy program to get some funding, but I wonder about the long term impact of this policy.

Tags & Categories

, , , , ,