Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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A policy change, a plan for the future, criticism debunked

by John Halverson

July 28, 2011

Two city government stories caught my eye last week.

First, there was an item about a change in policy regarding city employees storing personal items on city-owned property.

As Alderman Tom Krause said such a practice is "way out of line.

At the same time it's too easy to demonize past practices. Having covered four city councils in my life, this sounds like a policy that could well have been operative in any of those communities. It's a last vestige of what could be called "good old boy" government.

Such practices aren't always evil, and they're rarely created to be underhanded. It's just an offshoot of how people looked at jobs in an earlier era. The idea was to help out your fellow worker by not doing everything "by the book." It was seen as common sense trumping bureaucracy.

The problem is that to grow up as a city, we need to grow out of that old school thinking, too. Times change, policies ought to also.

From what I gather this "practice" wasn't out of hand or notorious but, as a former alderman asked, "where does it begin and end?"

Whether well-intentioned or not I'm glad the city has put an end to it now.

The second story that caught my eye was headlined: "Officials talk ideas for no more municipal borrowing."

Alderman Todd Krause in his capacity as chairman of the Finance, License and Regulation Committee gave voice to the goal.

"I would like to pick your brains," he said, challenging his cohorts to come up with plans to save for the future.

"None of us want to borrow," chimed in Alderman Tom Hartz.

Their plan is to set up funds to actually save for the future. What a radical concept

In five years the city's debt will be cut in half leaving an opportunity to start saving instead of paying for previous obligations. As Alderman Al Kupsik commented that goal might be a lot easier said than done. But at least those aldermen who spoke aren't shy about putting themselves on record as advocates for such a worthy cause.

The city council had to bite a hard bullet this year in order to fund a new fire department aerial truck, road repairs, public works vehicles and other items. After much discussion the council, on a 5-3 vote, agreed to borrow nearly $3 million at an interest rate of 2.425. Hard to argue with the interest rate and hard to argue against money for public safety.

But that's always the problem. Government agencies are constantly besieged by the real or imagined need for this or that. One of the many reasons we're in our economic crisis is that it's hard for elected officials to say no.

So while the aldermen may well have made the right choice to borrow this time around, I think we'd all agree that saving for the future is better than mortgaging it.

Kudos to those aldermen for supporting the move. I wish them luck. They'll need it.

Finally, as an aside, it was interesting to note that Lake Geneva is on the low-end of long-term general obligation debt totals. The story also pointed out that it has a solid Moody's rating.

Those facts are interesting to note after years of hearing from various citizens (and a few non-citizens) who somehow thought the city was in the throes of economic mismanagement.

It's seems we're doing just fine — and if the no more borrowing idea takes hold, we'll be doing even better.

Halverson is the general manager of the Regional News.