Give council members your ideas

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 7, 2003

Reality is starting to set in.

Of course, it started a few weeks ago when there was talk of slashing the city's flower program.

But after a council work session earlier this week, a glimpse was given into what really will need to be cut.

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In a Tuesday meeting that lasted nearly three hours, there were differences of opinion on nearly every subject on what programs should (and shouldn't) be cut.

Over the course of time, many Austin City Council members had the following opinion: "We know we need to make cuts, but some of these programs are needed."

For instance, I don't think anyone's going to argue about the Mower County Senior Center. Paulette Anderson does a great job over there and helps coordinate a beneficial service to our senior population.

The same goes for the library. We have a great asset with a building that is only a few years old and a new librarian, in Ann Hokanson, to boot.

I'm not picking on the two above entities for any particular reason. However, they're just some of many examples if council members decide services at those agencies should be cut.

At least the council members and city officials all agree on something: they expect to receive a large cut in local government aid..

Council member Tracy Chamberlain made an excellent point in that "we don't need to panic right now." He was wise enough to point out that it could be different come July.

But I'll go along with what council member Pete Christopherson had to say Tuesday.

"We've been sitting here for 2 1/2 hours. We need to (do something) or get off the pot."

I understood Christopherson's frustration. And not because I'd been sitting on a hard-covered seat for the last 150 minutes.

No one wants to cut from the senior center. Or the library. Or the Fourth of July fireworks. Or the school crossing guard program. The list goes on and on and on and …

But we need to start somewhere.

That's why council members (and other legislators) must have the mentality that cuts are simply going to have to be made. Period.

Maybe it's some programs more than others. However, it's going to be hard to just leave every single program alone, without having to pass along fee after fee after fee to city residents.

Raising fees are a necessary evil. Sometimes.

And a lot of times, they're justified. City Engineer Jon Erichson pointed out that some of our building permit fees haven't been raised in a long time.

But many residents also realize that fees are just tax increases in sheep's clothing.

Still, this doesn't mean we should ambush funding to area service groups. Council member Lynn Koch made a great suggestion that if local service agencies aren't going to get as much funding from the city, the cutbacks should take place gradually over the course of a few years -- not all at once.

That idea only makes sense. It's bad enough the city has to suddenly deal with this funding problem. Why dump it on these agencies, many of which are non-profits and whose budgets are thin enough as it is?

In the coming weeks, area residents should plan on attending forums that will be held in their respective wards.

What I suggest, however, is residents should come with ideas.

It's easy to say "Please don't cut this program. Don't you know how valuable and useful it is?"

Folks … your council members know darn well what is and isn't useful here. In fact, we wouldn't have the programs and services we normally do if city officials didn't think we got any use out of them.

Instead, come up with solutions. Give your council members input that will help them make these tough decisions.

It's an opportunity for everyone to work together. With everyone's cooperation and ideas, it gives our city council a chance to unite and pull through these tough economic times that don't appear to look brighter anytime soon.

Dan Fields can be reached at 434-2230 or by e-mail at