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Mayoral forum live blog

March 26, 2012

WauwatosaNOW will be live-blogging tonight as mayoral candidates Peter Donegan and Kathy Ehley face off in a forum from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Civic Center Auditorium at City Hall, 7725 W. North Ave.

You can also participate on Twitter by including #TosaMayor in your tweets.

Alderman Peter Donegan and Kathy Ehley, executive director of the Village Business Improvement District, will provide comments and answer questions about issues facing Wauwatosa. The audience will have a chance to pose questions to the candidates.

Wauwatosa NOW, the League of Women Voters of Milwaukee County and the Wauwatosa Chamber of Commerce will sponsor the forum. The league, a non-partisan civic organization, will provide the moderator and each sponsoring organization will provide questions for the candidates.

Editor's Note: A few questions were asked by participants in the live blog that weren't able to be asked at the forum, due to time constraints. The candidates have been gracious enough to answer them for us here.

The questions are:

1. How bad is the short & mid term economic forecast for Tosa?  What does this mean to its citizens?

2. How do you feel about regional coordination of services without compromising Tosa's sovereignty?

3. The City of Milwaukee approached Tosa several years ago about taking over fire & EMR services at a proposed short term savings.  How do you feel about the long term impact arrangements like this would have on Tosa?

 Peter Donegan's answers:

1)      Pretty bad in the near term….ie; the next mayor’s 4 year term. But, we enter the period with substantial financial strength.   We have to learn how to live on a flat revenue pattern for the next 3 years. That means that City government has to do the same that most businesses have done over the past few years; roll up the sleeves and figure out how to get more done with less without disappointing our customers.

2)      Yes! We must pursue the economies that may be availed from cooperation with our neighbors.  I am not so concerned about “sovereignty” as I am about the cost/benefit. In other words, we have to make sure that cooperative efforts result in a net gain for the good people of Tosa. That is not always the case in such ventures. Witness MATC, MMSD and the County.

3)      Same as answer #2.  We have to be wide open to this discussion but careful to protect our long term interests.

Kathy Ehley's answers:

 

How bad is the short & mid term economic forecast for Tosa?  What does this mean to its citizens?

     The structural shortfall for 2013, as currently projected by the Director of Finance, is $1.25 million not the $1.4 as stated at the Monday night forum.  It is early in the 2013 budgeting process and the staff is working on various tactics to reduce expenses without reducing services. Not filling vacancies and finding efficiencies like the one person garbage collection will significantly reduced or eliminate the structural shortfall for 2013.  That is the short term.

It is important for the citizens to be knowledgeable of the cost saving measures which have been implemented over the last several years and understand the reality of the revenue cap. 
There will come a point in several years when additional cost cutting will eat into the level of services. 

During the last several months as I have been campaigning for Mayor, I have talked with many individuals in the community.  I find misunderstanding of the reality of the budget.  For some, there is the assumption that municipal workers don’t know how to work smarter with less.  They do not understand what the staff has accomplished already in an effort to keep our level of services. One man told me we should outsource everything except vital services – we should not have municipal workers with big pensions doing janitorial work.  I explained that we don’t, that we contract for that service but he didn’t believe me.  The elected officials need to do a better job of providing accurate information to their constituents so when the time comes for decisions on cutting or reducing services, citizen input is based on fact.

Yes, staff salaries are a significant portion of the budget.  Municipal government is about providing services not producing widgets.  But other factors impact the budget as well.  Interest rates are flat, property tax rate remains flat. The property tax levy only increases at the rate of net new construction which has been limited by the slow economic recovery and hard to find commercial lending.  TIF funding expires.  All of these things impact the budget.

The good thing is we have been a very fiscally responsible municipality which is why we have the AAA bond rating.  This will help a great deal as we find our way through funding the much needed improvements on the sewer/water infrastructure. 

If the economy doesn’t pick up, we have only a few more years in which citizens will not see a change in services.  There is a limit to how deep you can cut costs and eliminate staff before it significantly impacts services.  Then, tough decisions will have to be made on what services we as a community are willing to give up. 

In addition to cost efficiencies, the City is revamping its Community and Economic Development department readying us for a more efficient process of dealing with new projects and businesses wanting to move into the Wauwatosa.  This will be very beneficial as commercial lending opens up.

Cost efficiencies and increasing the property tax base are critical to the fiscal health of Wauwatosa.

 

How do you feel about regional coordination of services without compromising Tosa's sovereignty?

I believe Wauwatosa should always be open to investigating and weighing the pros and cons of shared services with another community or region.  This process should be taken very seriously.  We must make decisions not simply for short term savings but for the long term best interest of our community.  Bigger is not always better.

The City of Milwaukee approached Tosa several years ago about taking over fire & EMR services at a proposed short term savings.  How do you feel about the long term impact arrangements like this would have on Tosa?

My previous answer responds to this question.

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