I had the pleasure of attending the last audit and finance commission meeting, as requested by Trustee Humpher when he seemingly invited me (and any other resident that wanted to attend) to the meeting to “Roll up your sleeves” and discuss these issues with the commission. Alas, Trustee Humpher was absent. But it did give me the opportunity to get a few answers, and to develop more questions.
After going through the 6 month report – it appears to this untrained eye that we are ahead with our revenue stream (or in some cases very close to the projection) and under budget almost across the board in the department’s budgetary spending. Naturally in this backwards thinking village, more revenue and less budget use = OH MY GOD WE’RE IN CRISIS – CUT CUT CUT! And I learned a few things that perhaps my fellow citizens would like to know.
The most important of which is that throughout the year, the board “amends” the budgets during board meetings. Problem is – those amendments aren’t posted or available readily, except through FOIA or a request to the department (which is another form of a FOIA request.) And most residents don’t know that this is done or that they can request those, I didn’t… Commission member McFeggan requested that those amendments be made available on the Village Website for residents, but shockingly, they still aren’t. So, those of us who are interested in what our village is doing with our money may be looking at information that is 2, 3 or 4 amendments behind what the village is working with. So, is our Village’s finances as dire as I had previously predicted – who knows, only those in the Village know, and it doesn’t seem as though they are going to be releasing the information any time soon unless we FOIA the information. Either way though, the Finance Department’s report on the fiscal health of the village certainly shows that our village is doing quite well – the need for the cuts in my opinion aren’t justified by the department’s report – so why are we cutting?
Next is transfers – (and take in mind the way I describe this is how I understand it – it is probably far more complicated than I’m making it …) Apparently the village uses the general fund as kind of a “catch all” – transferring money in and out to the various departments and funds that the village has, in an effort to keep the funds at a level that they are supposed to be based upon the board approved purchases that are occurring. My only concern with this is that it makes it difficult for the departments to adequately forecast what is left in their budget – as their budgets are AMENDED throughout the year. What i’m having the most difficult time understanding is why we continuously amend the budget. After all, the departments go through a difficult and lengthy budget process every year to request and get approved items which they feel they need to purchase and to retain approval for programs and personnel they feel are important, why do we amend that after the fact? If it’s because of the change in projections – isn’t that what contingency fund is for? The constant threat of cuts and financial disaster that is talked about at the board meetings keeps residents like myself worried about Village Management AND it keeps employees of the village on-edge and morale low. It’s just not a good way to run a business. In my opinion, if we have to dip into the contingency funds, fine – next budget year there should be an independant review of the projections that weren’t accurate and why they weren’t accurate AND some budget sacrifices will have to made to bring the fund back up to the 19% that the board has set as the fund minimum. Why keep the village in a state of crisis by amending budgets?
I have talked quite a bit about our public safety departments – and this one I’m going to keep hammering on! Trustees and Residents – without GOOD public safety departments, the village is worthless to residents and businesses alike. Businesses don’t want to come to a village that has higher crime rates than those around them, they don’t want to come to a village that doesn’t have good fire protection – and if the public works department can’t keep the streets cleared, customers won’t get to the business to buy from them. This isn’t rocket science. And who wants to move into a town where their homes aren’t safe from crimes and not well protected by the fire department. When people have a choice where to move to, picking our village vs other villages in the area with better police and fire protection doesn’t make sense. We aren’t doing anything innovative, and we aren’t even helping our fellow residents keep their homes when they are distressed. Foreclosures continue to rise, and vacant businesses continue to rise. This represents, in my opinion, a serious failure of our Community Development department. Our police department does the best it can with what it has – but even now, I’m seeing more gang-bangers walking down wakefield than I have in the last 6 years – and it’s because those people are getting out of jail – they were put there by our police department working hard to make our streets safer, and now that the village has cut the patrol ranks, the officers will be under staffed to deal with the problem as it begins to cycle again.
Despite what the village may have said in press releases – the new Full Time fire department contract amendment was an internal dispute – there are still 11 daily duty spots. The amendment did give the Village unrestricted use of Part Time personnel, and with it they put one more vehicle in service – 5, still not the 6 that we used to have. And that 11 daily duty spots isn’t guaranteed for the residents – it can go down to as little as 8 if the village doesn’t want to use part time people. So, we are in a situation where the Village can use part time firefighters to swell the ranks as much as they want, that there are no firefighters or fire managers that would tell us that we have is fine – that there is no need to go to 5 people at each station, and yet, despite having less costly (although somewhat unreliable) labor available, the village chooses not to put the daily duty spots where they belong for GOOD protection. I challenge any of my trustees who disagree with me to order the Fire Department to have ISO re-evaluate it’s abilities. Put your money (insurance for residents and businesses go up as the iso rating goes down) where your mouth is!
Public Works – this winter has been a disaster for everyone, there’s no denying that. And our men and women in Public Works have done a valiant job with what they’ve been given trying to keep up with the cold and snow cycle that we’ve been under since late december. It’s a task that none of us would want to face. But seriously, our Village needs more people to be able to provide more plow coverage. Even if it’s just seasonal employment – these guys need a break from what’s been going on. Why is it that Village Management didn’t have a plan to deal with what could be described as the chaos of the weather? I realize it’s hard to predict, but having contingency plans for things that are hard to predict is the job of management.
I cannot say this enough – when it comes to public safety, whose quality and efficiency depends on the number of personnel available to do the job, LESS = LESS, NOT MORE!
Finally, I want to touch on Communication. This Village SUCKS at communication. A lot of these questions could and should have been answered already. During a recent meeting with the Director of Public Safety, I was assured that the Manager was going to see to it that the Village President or one of the Trustees gives me the phone call i’ve been asking for SINCE OCTOBER! Shockingly, no phone call yet. Our website needs to be updated to provide some amount of interaction between the public and the Board / Departments, and while it has become significantly better since IT Director Goethals was hired – there is still room for improvement – and orders for that improvement need to come from our board. Leadership starts at the top – and a lack of leadership puts the whole village into disarray – which is what it is in now. What is that the Board (or the Manager?) so concerned with – why ignore your constituents that have questions and issues with how their village is run? Why not provide a forum and ability to ask questions, get answers and documents in an easier manner that what we currently have? I realize, after the audit and finance meeting that documents are available online – they are contained within the board meeting agendas. So, in order to find an amendment, i need to search through the board meeting agendas until I find what I need. Why not have a downloads area of the website where every document is available in an easy to navigate, searchable section?
Lastly, and I will be touching on this more, our Video feeds of the Board meeting aren’t exactly up to snuff. They are touchy – sometimes they play, sometimes they don’t, they don’t work on every available platform. In this day and age with a significant number of the population walking around with tablets and smartphones, from several different manufacturers, why is that the Village doesn’t tap into these resources? The platform they use is available using a web browser, unless it’s on an android or iphone – and sometimes they work, sometimes not depending on how people have them set up. Why is that this village doesn’t get with the electronic times and use a company that can produce a platform that is available to all users is beyond me. Seriously – if the only reason why the village uses Granicus is because they put the agenda next to it and you can click an agenda item to see that part of the video, this feature doesn’t reach as many people as it could. In my view, why the village doesn’t use a social media platform for this raises serious discussion about it’s understanding of technology and how to reach it’s citizens.