Common Council, 8.20.19: Fiscal & Economic

Yesterday, I posted about part of a Whitewater Common Council meeting that addressed a traffic signal at a dangerous intersection. See Common Council, 8.20.19: Misperception.

There was another topic at that meeting: the annual audit of the city’s fiscal condition (link below).  In another place and time,  the fiscal condition of government might be decisive of a community’s economic condition. Whitewater is not that place at this time: difficult economic conditions have overrun  conventional government efforts.

Whitewater’s problems do not stem from her finance director (Hatton), and one can assume generally that he’s doing the best he can for a small rural town. His presentation (using slightly different metrics from the Johnson Block audit, appears at 13:30 to 32:33 on the video.)

A bad fiscal condition (a government matter) might make circumstances worse, but a sound fiscal condition will not attract anyone when general economic conditions (of the community and area) are weak.  It matters that a finance director does his work well, but he cannot be expected – no one in his position could be expected – to heal and uplift this city through municipal fiscal management. It’s enough that he brings order and competence where it was previously missing.

Government in Whitewater stoops low in a different place — in actions like those of her Community Development Authority.

If you build it, they will come is a futile mantra when residents have greater immediate needs and there’s no one able to come except at an exorbitant price that satisfies none of those greater immediate needs.  See The Rural Condition: Life expectancy for Wisconsin babies falls and The rural America death spiral (‘Many of the nation’s current pathologies are taking a heavy toll on the majority-white population living in rural America, which was severely impacted by the opioid crisis and has dealt with falling populations, job losses and rising suicide rates’).

If a community development authority does not see gains in individual and household income, then community development is a hollow term. In a cardinal measure of meaningful gains, Whitewater’s CDA is a tragic, years-long failure.  See A Candid Admission from the Whitewater CDA and Reported Family Poverty in Whitewater Increased Over the Last Decade.

The very measure of a successful free-market economy is the ability to lift people out of poverty by producing gains in individual and household income through the private productive efforts of capital and labor.

Whitewater should, wherever possible, redistribute what it can from over-priced capital projects to immediate human care, re-orient city employees into a genuine community enforcement that begins with the assumption that many are in need and that no residents are adversaries within their own town, and speak plainly about these needs.

Honest to goodness: even the Soviets knew how to build offices, roads, centers, and hotels.  Even the Soviets knew how to put names and slogans on the sides of buildings.

And yet, and yet — their people were still poor.

See 2018 Johnson Block & Company Audit for City of Whitewater.

4 comments for “Common Council, 8.20.19: Fiscal & Economic

  1. A Town Squire
    08/22/2019 at 2:31 PM

    So many things that we thought would help did not turn out that way. It all seemed like it would jump start Whitewater.
    You look around today and people are hurting.Its like we needed food and we bought fancy cars.
    There was definite support for city projects that looks silly now.Everything was going to put us on the map.
    You have to wonder how much of that was emotion and how much real because it did not happen.

      08/22/2019 at 8:15 PM

      People naturally start out hoping for the best. When these subsidies and deals soon began to prove ineffective, the men behind them got to work simply by insisting that they were effective. The deal came to matter less than the myth-making about the deal. Work wasn’t about making good deals – work was about convincing people that bad deals were good ones. Grand became merely grandiose. It often takes time for life to catch up with public relations. It now has.

  2. joe
    08/22/2019 at 3:15 PM

    At the risk of being hopelessly utopian, there is an organic way to deal with community devolution: Ban any tax-supported subsidies to industry/developers at the state and local level. Yah…I know it ain’t gonna happen, but if enacted nationwide simultaneously, it could be made to work.

    What is going on now is an expensive race to the bottom to see which state/community can divert the most tax dollars from being spent on improving the community to lining corporate/developer pockets. If relocation/development decisions were made based on the best place to put said projects rather than the place that gave away the most money, there would be both funds and incentives to make communities better places to live and work.

    The inherent corruption of operations such WEDC, which you have exhaustively chronicled, would not be possible under my dream. TIF districts, a great shining example of a good idea gone bad, would not exist either, much to the relief of local property-tax payers. TIF districts are now universally used to put Walmarts, strip malls and housing projects in cornfields on the outskirts of towns rather than any sort of urban renewal, as they were intended to do.

    If you make your town/state a nice place to be, industry will move there, absent the bribes influencing their decisions.

      08/22/2019 at 8:05 PM

      Agreed, all around. This is the core of a good policy, so well described: “If you make your town/state a nice place to be, industry will move there, absent the bribes influencing their decisions.”