Tonight is Brookfield’s budget night

A lot of communities behave just like Brookfield when spending, so take a few minutes to read even if you live outside the boundaries.

Tonight there will be an opportunity to speak at the public hearing prior to the council meeting. I saw a notice taped to the circulation counter at the library encouraging library users to speak against removing $15,000 from the library’s budget. The note mentioned only the library is asked to move their budget back to a 0% increase while other departments charge ahead with spending. Frankly, that’s a really good point. Why penalize this department where so much public interaction takes place? On the other hand, if Brookfield is serious about reining in spending, it needs to start somewhere.

My summary: The majority of the City of Brookfield elected have proven budget after budget they don’t care about spending, so the library’s budget needs to be restored to the previous amount. If they ever get serious about it, aldermen can look at the entire budget and find the fluff instead of cherry picking this easy number.

I promised earlier to offer my own version of what should be done. Honestly that turned out to be way more work than I’m willing to invest. I did manage a look at the travel budgets for all of the departments. Here’s a spreadsheet so you can follow along if you’d like. (Disclaimer! I worked more quickly than usual on this one and there may be mistakes. Still, the overall point should be clear.)

Brookfield spends over $100,000 next year sending people places. Sure, some of these employees will head to balmy downtown Waukesha for a plumbing conference where’ll they’ll trade names of contractors doing shoddy work. That’s really valuable and needs to stay in the budget. Others, like the Mayor, will head to a resort location and make a family vacation of it. That’s waste.

If our mayor finds he can string a few sentences together for the mayor of New Berlin, they can head to the new Hooters for a lot less money. No kidding – Jeff Speaker once justified this expense with the explanation that he chats with the region’s mayors during this outing.

While I don’t have the details of other departments, you can pretty much guess something similar is possible.

Here’s another hiccup with the travel budget as an example – and this is getting a little more complicated so I hope I write it clearly – but it’s not uncommon for a department to never spend their travel money. Look at that third column of numbers. That’s how much travel has taken place through 8/31/09. If you look at the bottom you’ll see that’s less than HALF the amount budgeted one column to the right. Oh, sure, the estimated amount for 2009 (a column to the left) is much bigger, but do you really think they’ll spend that much in the last three months of the year?

And that’s how it’s done in Brookfield, folks. They inflate the expected spending year after year so there’s plenty to stash in the end. After all, they think they know how to spend your money so much better than you do!

Maybe in the end of my public input someday I’ll be recognized as the girl who harped against the local spending and levy limits. I’ve told you before they cost you money. This inflated travel budget is but one example of how that happens. The state determines a number every year based on the prior year’s spending and levy. If there’s growth in a community, the increase percentage is seen in that number. If there’s no growth like we’ve had lately? A government still gets to spend more, but it’s a set percentage.

That’s what’s happening this year. Brookfield can spend it, and so they will. The prescribed increase will have to come out of the pockets already paying since there’s no new development.

If Brookfield’s elected really tried, they could keep things down like Elm Grove did this year. It’s a good year to do so given all that’s going on. And make no mistake, there are a few aldermen who have tried, but there’s no majority to back the effort.

Brookfield spends about 5% more than they need to in this budget. A 5% reduction would still provide lots of padding and protect our resources. (One alderman is really quick to remind you of your impending doom if you touch this budget!) The problem is, this budget is a staff decision with the majority of aldermen along for the ride.

There’s so much of your money stashed at City Hall, but no one will admit it. Speaker isn’t the guy – he’s played this game every year he’s been elected. Marcello isn’t your guy – he runs similar numbers game in the Elmbrook budget. Reddin probably isn’t your guy either – he’s the one who cherry picked $15,000 from the library for a wee bit of grandstanding.

No one will protect you, and you refused to elect the one person who would, so you’re stuck with it. It would be just fine with me if all you “really conservative” Brookfield Republicans would quit whining about your taxes now.

Comments

  1. DICK STEINBERG says:

    Cindy. I agree about the library. Am I correct that time for public comments takes place just before the budget vote ?

  2. No, they are at 7:45 when the public hearing starts. The vote is later after the regular meeting commences.

  3. DICK STEINBERG says:

    Thanx, same thing. Why not have a public hearing at the start of the budget process ? That is 30 to 60 days before so the city fathers know in advance what us residents want.

  4. I think that would be great, too, Dick, but that’s not what the law demands, and your government is unlikely to do anything extra.

  5. DICK STEINBERG says:

    Well, due process of law takes precedent over what city hall thinks. A strong leader can convince otherwise. Thanx for following up on this issue. Too many people think that un-elected city employees have some awesome power. The Mayor has a duty to fulfill the will of the people and thus the void in our city government. Further, as the alderpersons have their citizens to represent, still the focus of the broader topics of city issues must come from the top. The budget process as it stands violates every rule of law and ethics. It is like taking a poll on who should be mayor after the election. Maybe we need changes in our system to reflect the views of the people .