Updated: Mar 10, 2021
My Plan to Address Our Challenges
Forward thinking has guided me throughout my 20 year professional career. Being able to take the long view and see what's coming and plan for it is essential. Being fiscally astute and knowing how to work under the constraints of limited resources and tight budgets is also essential when running an organization. When you look at my career, you'll see that every organization I've had the honor of leading, has been left in an excellent position after my tenure.
While serving as Mayor is mostly a volunteer role (pay is $4,800/year), I look at the position of Mayor of Monona as a CEO position. The voters get to choose who leads our city and serves as our next leader. You are charged with assessing the skill set, the soft skills, and the professional expertise of our next Mayor. As you make your decision of who to support, you can review my resume to help guide your decision. We are at a financial crossroads as a City. I don't say this to scare you because I never lead from a place of fear, but it does concern me. I want to be able to afford to live here and have my kids and grandkids to have that option as well. But we must get a handle on our debt and spending sooner than later. Below, I've laid out my plan to lead our city to a more resilient position for the future.
1) My plans as Mayor include solving our communication challenges. I will implement a comprehensive communications plan. Some components of my plan include a weekly e-newsletter so you know what's happening at City Hall. The e-newsletter will be similar to my Alder Updates that I've been sending monthly since elected. I'm the first alder in Monona to send out regular updates. I send these updates because when the public is engaged in our processes, we become a better community. It also increases our transparency and allows us to get more input from a diverse set of voices.
I will implement strategic use of our social media channels. Currently, we have several departments with their own social media pages but City Hall does not have one. My plan will solve this redundancy and develop a coordinated social media schedule.
Increasing transparency and providing a more welcoming forum for public input is essential. We have numerous options to leverage digital platforms that will make our community better. I have already begun advocating for more committee meetings to be uploaded to our YouTube channel.
Right now, you can watch City Council, Plan Commission and Finance and Personnel meetings when it's convenient for you on our YouTube channel. All other committee meetings are recorded on Zoom but not uploaded to our YouTube channel. So, the only way you can know what's happening at those meetings is by attending at their scheduled meeting time or reading the minutes. Committees that deal with larger budgets or public safety would be beneficial for the public to have access to. Not everyone works from 8am-5pm so opening up the access for all people will make us a better community.
2) I will begin to tackle our financial challenges. Monona has a AA+ bond rating. But it's not AAA. That is what we need to strive for. Currently, our debt service payments are at 37.5%. As a standard rule, municipalities aim for 12%.
So, $1 of every $3 we pay in property taxes goes to debt service (repaying our debt). What this means is that one third of our property taxes is not going toward services. To put this in terms of household income, if you earn a salary of $60,000 per year, that's like paying $20,000 of your salary to repaying your debt.
While the incumbent will say that our debt is only "23% of our operating budget," the optimal target for a city is 12% with 15% being the uppermost limit.
It's essential that we get a handle on our debt as soon as possible. Our reserves are low and this year we hit the tax levy limit. Some people are struggling to pay their property taxes and we know businesses, especially hotels and restaurants, are struggling to pay their commercial property taxes and this will continue through 2021. On June 1, 2021, we close on San Damiano. That is going to stretch us even further. We had to pull $250,000 out of our fund balance at the end of 2020.
Yet, City Council approved the redesign of Stone Bridge Park—an optional spending of $355,000. You likely know I have been opposed to this spending at this time of a budget crisis. I was the only council member who voted no. Most of the public input we received asked that we keep Stone Bridge a natural and meditative space. I have asked what data was driving the need to redesign Stone Bridge. I was told that a poll conducted five years ago was the data that determined the park needed to be designed. I have lived in Monona for seven years and I'm a regular user of that park. Why was I not polled? Were you polled? We must do a better job with engagement especially when it comes to San Damiano. We must also look for other revenue streams like advertising on our transit buses, public/private partnership opportunities, and reduce our spending.
3) I will bring government down to the neighborhood level. I will encourage the formation of neighborhood watch groups, neighborhood associations, and provide opportunities for public input and feedback whenever possible. If we start listening to the people and open the channels for two-way communication, we will be a better community.
Public safety is a big concern in our city. Having neighbors who are connected to each other through watch groups or neighborhood associations not only builds community but improves safety. It will reduce unnecessary calls to police because neighbors can connect when potentially suspicious behavior is sighted.
Assembling a Covid task force will be one piece of my public safety plan. We need to be having continuous talks with the business community so we know how to better support them, and they're up-to-date on vaccine distribution and our reopening plan.
By working together, we will be a better community. We could create task forces to support our police, fire and EMS personnel. As a small city our resources are limited but, we have numerous people who are willing to volunteer. Let's utilize them and tap into the residential resources we have. The "If You Love It, Lock It," campaign I started for our police department is just a start of what we can do to educate the public on safety issues in our community.
Read my Top 3 Priorities as Mayor to read more. If you share my thoughts and concerns, please consider making a donation to my campaign. You can sign up to volunteer, get a yard sign, and donate on my home page.
As always, you can reach out to me to provide input by email. I hope to hear from you!