Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Just Wait!

Alderman David Mack visited my blog here recently. He did not leave a comment, but did say something to me at a break in the proceedings at this evening’s (October 28)—what I am going to call—"budget study session." His statement (referring to my blog, A Soul Searhing Event) was that it is not yet the time for aldermen to vote on or make changes in the budget. Just wait! That will happen when they go into discussion later on.

That may well be the case, David, but I didn’t hear any expression of any kind at that first session of any concern about any of the items presented. Questions were asked, but the follow ups were poor and there was no indication in any of the discussion that evening that any changes would be made.

My comment to him was that I have never known the Council to cut the mayor’s budget further. I have watched the council add to the mayor’s proposal. I have watched them switch a few things around. I have heard them discuss budget items to show those listening that they know what is in the budget and what it is for. But I have never seen them actually reduce spending from the mayor’s proposal.

I guess I will have to
                                                                     Just Wait.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Discussion : SC Johnson’s new development helping fund district to revitalize Uptown

Discussion : SC Johnson’s new development helping fund district to revitalize Uptown:"We manage a building in Uptown and we would most like to see that vacant lot occupied. This BID-TID will not suffer from Jwax’s money. I opposed the BID, but it is looking up, right now.
The major tripping point will be the artist thing. But government never does it the easy way, at least not this government. Why not let everyone participate equally?
If you have a business and want to rent one of the stores out, whether you are an artist or not, it should be: COME ON OVER.
Everyone should be welcome."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Soul Searching Event

After three hours of inquisition, no council member showed a modicum of interest in cutting anything from the budget. The entire three hour session was dedicated to listening to City Administrator Tom Friedel, Mayor John Dickert and nine of the Department Heads each explain his or her part of the city budget.

I heard nothing that challenged any of the spending. Any question about spending, if it was meant to be challenging, said challenge was quickly dispelled with a brief explanation of how or why the money was spent. In bobble head fashion, no alderman pushed on stating it did not need to be spent that way or any way. Each in turn acquiesced to the flow, took the easy way out, and continued on with the program.

Departments covered: General Administration (Aldermen and Mayor), City Development, Assessor, Finance, Health Department, Neighborhood Watch, Car25, MIS, Library and Civic Center.

The City Assessor stated that assessment would remain level for this year. But in 2010 it looks like they will be coming down 5 to 9%. Assessors, aldermen and the Mayor are hanging dearly onto their lie. The Assessor still maintains that their are "two markets:" one where buildings are selling at the true price and the other where (most) buildings are selling at a depressed price—evidence of typical government practice of denying the existence of the free market.

Alderman Greg Helding added to the "two market" myth, observing that "good, high priced, well kept" properties will have to bear a greater percentage of the tax burden as so many run down properties will have their assessments lowered because of their "condition."

ATTENTION MR. HELDING: This will occur only if you continue to deny that even the high priced edifices are dropping in value.

THE HIGHLIGHT OF THE EVENING, for me anyway, came after the meeting was over when Alderman Bob Anderson approached me in the hall. What I had stated in my three minute talk-allotment last Tuesday
at the Oct 20 Council Meeting about UNIT being unconstitutional had been bugging him.

He asked me a few pertinent questions about this illegal condition, which I answered and he understood.

We ended the conversation outside in the cold rainy weather. He left with his usual good natured smile...but bothered.

I left knowing if we persist, we can win.

They will try to ignore you, they will pretend to not listen. But if you speak the truth, and do it frequently, the goodness that lies deep within their souls will hear you. And it will eventually respond.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Assessments: Do as I Say; Not as I Do

It is fairly common knowledge that the City Assessor got stuck in 2007 and has yet failed to wake up to real property Fair Market Values (FMV).

But someone in the City government is wise to it.

The Planning Department wants to purchase the property owned by the County at 1132 Irving Place for its Neighborhood Stabilization Program. The property is assessed at $36,000.

The maximum authorized for the purchase is $10,050, or about 27% of the FMV established by the City Assessor.

(These notes from the Common Council meeting 10/20/09)

The Armadillo (armored car)

The Police Chief was granted authorization to accept a donation of a 1999 armored car.

So far, no harm done.

The problem arises when it gets used. Apparently the plan is to install surveillance equipment in the car and the park it on the street and “stake out” the area with the car.

It is almost laughable. Certainly anyone living in the area or anyone who knows about the car will be on their good behavior when in the locale of the car. So who will it catch doing dishonest deeds?

Is the money that will be used to tool up the car and get it to its locations well spent?

(These notes from the Common Council meeting 10/20/09)

The UNIT and the Great City

At his budget address last night, Mayor John Dickert expressed a goal of returning the City of Racine to its former greatness. It is a goal I heartily endorse. But can he do it?

Racine became great because there was a great deal of freedom here a hundred fifty years ago. And government was very small. A Mayor’s term, for instance, was only one year. And Mayors changed almost that often too.

Now government is very large and imposing. We can’t even hold a rummage sale when we want to. Just try to start a business in town. And people in government stay there way too long.

But what I am most concerned about is the violation of constitutional rights. You cannot have a great city while at the same time violating the rights of constituents. And we have an institution in City Hall that does just that. It is called the UNIT.

The UNIT issues fees which in reality are fines.

And in the assessment of these fines, the UNIT violates a citizen’s right to due process and there is no legitimate appeal.

In addition the fines are issued arbitrarily and capriciously. What they fine is not clearly defined by ordinance. When UNIT inspectors asked about this, their boss is reported to have told them, “Just look at it. If it looks OK, then forget it. Otherwise, write it up.”

If the inspector is having a good day, then it is OK. If he or she is having a bad day, then you get a fee. That is arbitrary and capricious.

When government violates the rights of its constituents, a wall of separation starts to build up a between the two of them. And then the government and its constituents become opponents in a game instead of team members working towards the same goal.

They start to live in two different worlds: the world of government, and the real world.

A while back I was talking to an alderman about this violation of constitutional rights. He did not like the idea of an appeal of UNIT citations. His statement was that when they get appealed to municipal court they just get dismissed!

Those in government understand his feeling. They want the money. Those of us in the private sector prefer our constitutional rights.

Recently the UNIT found a car parked on the lawn of a single family rental unit that we manage. Instead of fining the tenant, UNIT issued $125.00 in fees to the owner of the property, twice what the police department would have charged the owner of the automobile.

Those in government will rationalize that UNIT action. But most in the private sector find it appalling. Why not put responsibility where responsibility should be: fine the owner of the car.

At least there should have been a route of appeal for the owner of the property.

Like I say, government officials and their constituents live in two different worlds. And as these worlds grow further apart, those goals will become more difficult to achieve. Watch out when the T shirts appear saying don’t cooperate with the cops.

It’s an $84 million budget. The Aldermen can’t be that desperate for the $350,000 UNIT generates in the illegal manner I have described.

Unit can operate legally, just like it did before Gary Becker and Rick Heller devised the new system.

It must operate legally if we want to achieve the greatness for this city that we all desire.

(This is an edited version of my statments to the Common Council at its 10/20/09 meeting. You can see and hear them "in the body" on Car25.)

Monday, October 19, 2009

City Budget Introduced

The crowd gathered for the proclamation with photographers, recorders and reporters at the fringes. The Mayor brought coffee to the lectern, casually sipped from the cup and proceeded to introduce the budget document.

“Every challenge amount to an opportunity,” he proclaimed as he dove into his monologue announcing the decline in State shared revenue funds of from 2 to 5%. (The actual amount, he then went on to admit, was 2%.)

The shared revenue drop was $400K but the city cut back in spending an amount of $628K. The appearance is that he covered the drop, with some to spare. But in the end, the tax levy still increased $634K over the estimated spending for 2009.

The tax rate will finally rear its ugly head. Tax rates have declined for eight years according to the budget document. My guess is that it has been longer than that. But the chart only goes back to 2001. The burgeoning housing market driven by speculation and lowered interest rates have allowed the Mayors Smith and Becker to cloud their spending proclivities claiming a drop in the tax rate.

But not this year. The tax rate will increase about 6%. But that is only a start as the City Assessor has continued to proclaim false assessments between 50 and 100% above actual fair market values of properties.

Dickert says he did not lay off any bureaucrats because of the 17% unemployment rate. He backs up this position stating,“Never in my life have I seen such selfless sacrifice as I have this year,” referring to the role the bureaucracy played in keeping the budget at the level at which it came out.

He finished his presentation with statements about his plans with housing, crime and jobs.