Damned if you Do, Damned if you Don’t
by Dino Corvino on August 29th, 2016
The City of Wausau City Council is damned if they don’t, and in this case don’t is what they did. I am writing about the failure of the City of Wausau City Council to enact a wheel tax as a means to counteract funding cuts put forth by the State of Wisconsin. They are, in fact, damned if they do and damned if they don’t, and like it has been for a while, they chose not to lead.
Two items came before the City Council recently, and both of them were interesting to me in their interconnectedness. The first, and most publicly glaring, the proposed wheel tax. Upon my reading, the wheel tax is a mechanism that municipalities can use to raise funds. In this case, the State of Wisconsin funding amount for the City of Wausau will be decreased and as a result the City of Wausau wanted to make up that money somewhere, and this device came forward.
The second part of this intersection was the failure of the City Council to overturn the Fee Ordinance. The Fee Ordinance requires that the City of Wausau go to referendum anytime they have to raise or create a new fee that would affect more than 10% of the population, in this case the wheel tax. So, if say we need to create an Urban Bicycling Fee or something, we need to determine if it affects more than 10% DIRECTLY, and then we need to go to referendum. Making the work of the city council, in this process, irrelevant. It gives the people a veto that might not always be in the best interest for the city.
As you can imagine, the vote to repeal this failed. Only Romy Wagner and Tom Neal voted to repeal it. I, personally, congratulate Tom and Romy for having the smallest amount of foresight and voting to allow the City Council to lead even in the smallest of ways.
So, how did the Council fail. One, they failed by not repealing the ordinance. This limits their ability to raise operational dollars which will be needed to offset the cutting of dollars from the state. Two, they failed to articulate the need for a wheel tax, and the referendum idea to be changed.
Now instead of leadership (which is what we elected them for), we are left with budgetary indecision. We know that the state funds will be less. We can assume that the costs for providing services will remain similar. Thusly, we will have a little less money in our money bucket. And at some point that will put a dent in things like police cruisers, snow plows, or whatever it is you care about.
I get it, the city is hardly a good steward of our money. They have hardly been trust worthy, or communicative, or inclusive, or even nice to the constituents for a while. They City of Wausau has gotten it wrong for a lot of years.
But, the idea that we are going to hamstring our leaders by forcing them to go begging each and every time they need to make up or find some money, seems absurd to me. It seems to me that this incident brings into stark contrast a couple of things…. Just how little our City Council wants to do to actually take a stand and lead (the failure of them to pass the repeal of the Fee Ordinance), and two…just how little we trust them (the need for the people to have created something called the Fee Ordinance in the first place).
It is my hope that this budget cycle does not lead to more cutting of service, and more attacks on our quality of life. I fear that we might have gotten there.