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Last Minute Budget Dance Leaves Employees in the Lurch

Requests for concessions from employees should have been made months earlier. Unfortunately, with limited time to agree to cuts in benefits and/or pay, the blame will shift to employees if there are cuts in service.

I feel like there is a lot of dramatic budget tricks going on at

First, there was push for in order to Unfortunately, the goal of a tax freeze as it was presented and pushed by the mayor was disingenuous. The average homeowners, the Waukesha residents that the mayor so frequently states are suffering from drops in home values and unemployment, would be seeing a $136 increase on their tax bills.

But the problem is still $136 that Waukesha residents will feel like are going out with the trash. To present it in any other way shows a disregard for the intelligence of Waukesha residents.

The garbage fee did have some merit – just not in the way it was presented. If the budget was cut back and then the garbage fee was introduced so there would be no net increase on what a person has to pay, why not? It would promote equality throughout the city as some people have to pay for private garbage collections. Still – that issue should have been addressed months before the budget was released.

Unfortunately, that’s not what happened. Now the city is forced to cut $2.7 million – $1.2 million in cuts that have already been identified and are before the Finance Committee – and need to cut another $1.5 million to have a tax freeze.

At the very last minute, the mayor suggested cuts to the employee benefits. There’s been some dialogue about the cuts saving employee jobs. Unfortunately, there has also been some demeaning of the public employees.

Let’s look at some of the facts:

  • City employees have been under a hiring freeze for several years. That means as retirements have happened throughout the city or when people move on for other jobs, the other employees are required to take on more work.
  • The Common Council worked hard to create a wage freeze in 2010 during another rough budget year. That was followed by 1.5 percent pay increases in 2011 and 2012. But in that three-year contract, there is also the provision of increase contributions toward health care costs, meaning sacrifices were made on their personal budgets.
  • Negotiations on the three-year contract began in fall 2009. The contracts were ratified in spring 2010. Gov. Scott Walker was elected in November 2010 and introduced his budget repair legislation that effectively strips public unions from negotiation abilities in February 2010. That means the city would have had no idea what was coming down from Madison when they negotiated a conservative contract.
  • Non-represented employees are required to put 5.8 percent of their salary toward their pension under the budget repair bill.
  • The employees are being asked to make concessions to avoid layoffs at the last minute. This was not presented to them until today – months into the budget process.

My argument is that the mayor should have realized that his garbage fee proposal would end up smelling poorly to the residents. But, it was proposed and it was

I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to ask the employees to contribute toward their benefits. But I do question the timing of it. If the city is unable to get the concessions, the blame for layoffs and cuts in service will be on the employee unions – which is not fair.

If they don’t agree to concessions at the last minute, they shouldn’t be treated poorly by their fellow community members as a result. In all honesty, two days is not enough time to ask that question.

Maybe the council can make some offers for the employees in 2012. Maybe a few extra vacation days could be added for some pay and benefit concessions. It could soften the last minute blow to their personal budgets.

Unfortunately, people will be losing their jobs soon if something doesn’t give. And serious, serious consequences could be coming – including deep cuts to the police and fire services.

Alderman Eric Payne said it best when he said Waukesha residents are not going to want to see cuts in service to – police, fire and public works.

“They want people to come to their house when they have problems with health or because their house is on fire,” Payne said. “They don’t want to wait an hour or two. … We should really look carefully at those positions before we cut.”

wordlady November 09, 2011 at 10:58 PM
Thank you for explaining the reality of the experience of Waukesha's public employees. One thing I would like people to realize is that if all of the mayor's proposals were enacted, public employees would receive a significant pay cut. Therefore, to indicate that employees would simply not receive the 1% pay raise is misleading.
Tom Taxpayer November 09, 2011 at 11:55 PM
Reality check. 1. The city would have to cut the same amount of money to not increase the sum of fees and taxes. 2. The Mayor, Alderman Reiland and Alderman Kalblinger are the only ones offering solutions in order to not raise the cost of living for Waukesha residents. 3. Private industry wouldn’t hesitate at doing what the city must do now. In terms of a reduction in compensation/benefits –  Harley Davidson employees took approximately 15% cuts in pay, Mercury Marine took 20% cuts , Kohler took 20% and they bargained in good faith for their previous wages and benefits. Yeah, reality is not easy, but now is not the time to make excuses. The taxpayers deserve solutions.
Luvtoroam November 10, 2011 at 01:15 PM
Public employees need to understand that out here in the real world we aren't getting raises, bonuses or employer matches on our retirement. Forget pensions, they pretty much don't exist in the real world anymore. We are broke. They should be pretty darn glad they have their cushy little government jobs! News Flash, in the real world companies that don't have money lay off people or simply close their doors.
Realist November 10, 2011 at 02:35 PM
Roam, Thanks for the facts-- Now its the public employees fault that your broke. Come on. What the governor has done has pitted neighbor against neighbor. Its great isnt it. Take a look back at all the wasted spending that the city has done in the past. Spending by management, and approving that spending, elected officials. Now our elected officials want to cut employment. Its a typical government move. Next time the Fox river floods, it will probably be the public employees fault too.
wordlady November 10, 2011 at 04:48 PM
I'm pretty sick of the attitude that public employees have "cushy little jobs." Have you tried teaching a classroom of 35 or more hormone-driven, restless 7th graders? Have you cut down trees for 8 hours? Have you plowed snow all night? Have you cleaned the public bathrooms in our parks? Public employees do all this and much more. And remember, they are also taxpayers who don't get bonuses and get very few raises. Public employees have traditionally accepted lower wages than their private counterparts in exchange for a decent package of benefits. That said, I know many people in the private sector who get terrific benefits, raises, and bonuses, even in this economic climate. And finally, public employees live in a world that is every bit as real as that of everyone else.
the 'sha guy November 10, 2011 at 05:03 PM
Please tell me which Waukesha school / class has 35 or more students in one 7th grade classroom.
Logitech November 10, 2011 at 06:03 PM
Hey Sarah, why don't you ask the 15 aldermen why they didn't bring forward any solutions two months ago? Don't we have smart aldermen? And for perspective, laying off 17 positions out of the 526 positions that the city has is only a 3% reduction in work force, and this alone would balance the city budget and not increase taxes. As far as the money saved through not filling vacant positions will the fire trucks move faster with one or two more firefighters? How many taxpayers have been hit with layoffs or reductions in pay and benefits? How many taxpayers have been hit with loses in their retirements and property values?
Chris B November 11, 2011 at 12:17 AM
This is about how we as a city do things. The city just cannot afford to contribute as much towards employee benefits as we have in the past. We need more cost sharing from the employees. We need to find better ways to do things. For example, I hear that police officers need to dictate reports, get the report transcribed and then the report comes back to them for checking. How about we use some sort voice recognition software and use our police officers time the best way possible?? Patroling the streets and doing what they are trained to do, not stuck behind a desk double checking a report that someone has typed??? I would really like to hear from them. I would guess most officers would want tools to make their work easier. They probably have even better ideas!!! There are four vacant firefighter portions. I understand that three have been vacant since February. I also understand that one lieutenant postion has been open since June of 2010??? If that is correct and our response times have not changed, as indicated by the fire chief at the Commom Council meeting. I think you can safely say that the city probably would not have to fill at least this position.
Betty November 11, 2011 at 01:55 AM
Hey taxpayer, let's get rid of some of those beautiful parks. I bet the city could sell a couple and raise that $1.5 mil. Quit building new homes and adding streets so people dont have to plow. Taxpayer pay you taxes by mail so we don't have to stay extra hours so you can pay in person. Watch your kids so the cops don't have to watch them for you. While you are at it, home school your kids too...I'm just say'n. You want it all, then you have to pay for it or move!
Mary November 11, 2011 at 03:19 AM
I just want to say that it's unfortunate that so many people have this misconception about public employees. I choose to work in the public sector because I have a great passion for the community & the people that live here. I go above & beyond when I help customers, & try to prove to them that there are people in government that are really passionate about their job & take great pride in it. It's nice when people recognize that & appreciate the job that we do. I get paid under 38k & I have felt at times that I should work in the private sector where I could make more money for all the hours I put in, but the truth is that I love what I do. The only thing I don't love is that there are a lot of people taking some cheap shots at public employees lately; some even tell it to our faces when they come in and we all have to take it with a smile. I have a family and struggle just like the rest of you, I pay taxes, I have the same complaints about the pot holes & so on & so forth. I realize people don't want to pay more taxes but I just don't see a lot of cuts you can make with the City budget that would allow the same level of services to continue. We have been making cuts for years now & leaving positions go unfilled. In the end, what the Council decides is best for the City, we will have to live with even if that includes some of us losing our jobs. All I can do is prepare for the worst & pray for the best. Happy Holidays to all of you...(even if we have different views).

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