I had to have somebody pinch me June 24 while watching the Waterloo City Council meeting. Sadly, I wasn’t dreaming. Our city leaders continue to demonstrate they have no regard for the taxpayers, nor do they have any intention of holding department heads accountable for mismanagement.
The council voted to use money generated by traffic cameras to cover up a $250,000 budget shortfall brought on by “unforeseen salary and health-care costs.” These would be the same salary and health-care benefits that are negotiated with unions and employees by none other than city department heads who stand to directly benefit from any increases.
Not a single elected representative of the taxpayer was or ever has been present in contract negotiations. This is alarming on many levels, but let’s back up for a minute. The $250,000 from camera revenue council members spent is money they are on record promising would go directly to tax relief.
No surprise that this was simply a typical false political promise. Secondly, there isn’t a company in the Cedar Valley, the state of Iowa or the United States what would simply brush an issue like this aside without consequence.
Can you imagine the CFO of VGM or John Deere walking into the board room and revealing a quarter of a million-dollar shortfall? I’d guess that person would be terminated before they could walk back to their office. Alas, in the public sector the CFO is not where the buck stops. They answer to the city’s CEO, who in this case is the mayor. Their mistakes or miscalculations fall at his feet.
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Waterloo’s finance department has been praised for things over the last several years, but it’s also caused the city quite a bit of embarrassment as well. A hard-hitting report by FEMA and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security last year stated the city finance departments “failure to cooperate with a federal audit put approximately $1.9 million in potential grant funding at risk.”
The report went on to say the federal government “experienced significant difficulties scheduling employee interviews and obtaining city policies, procedures, and supporting documentation for disaster-related expenses and damages.”
At this time, the mayor stood by his department heads. No city staffers where written up or punished. Now, here we go again. On June 24, the CFO stated a budget is just a projection, and I’d agree. But, missing that projection by a quarter of a million dollars isn’t just bad budgeting, it’s a disservice to thousands of taxpayers and another embarrassing moment for the city of Waterloo. I would argue employee salaries which increase a set percentage each year and health-care costs that are shopped around and agreed are pretty difficult to miscalculate.
The bottom line is this: In order for things to change at City Hall, changes have to be made in the bureaucracy. Every election, like a TV stuck on repeat, we hear taxes are too high and the candidates will fix it. Then those candidates are elected and make little to no changes. Within months, they grow puppet strings and drink gallons of political Kool Aid. And we the taxpayers find out the City Council has zero authority. The city is run by the city staff that wields immense power. The mayor is our only hope to seeing any change in this area, but he has proven he has no interest in cleaning house. He defends the mistakes made by his staff any chance he gets, and because of this he and his administration will go into history as being nothing but the status quo.
What happened on June 24 should open all citizens’ eyes. Waterloo government has been in the media more times in recent months than ever before. We have a major lack of trust in our elected officials. We have hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent on projects throughout the city that should never have happened, and like clockwork when a big mistake occurs we hear excuses instead of seeing discipline. All change is local. It’s time we come together to tell the mayor and City Hall that enough is enough.