The City of Whitewater will hold a public hearing this evening on its 2019 municipal budget. It’s the budget for the city, at a time when a budget for the municipal government will have little chance of positively affecting the city’s economy, let alone that of even small rural townships ringing Whitewater. The broader economic forces that grip small towns like Whitewater cannot be altered by a municipal budget, or through this Community Development Authority (as now constituted and directed). Earlier on, at the beginning of the Great Recession, I argued for less of the municipality (city government), and more of the city (private growth without government regulation or subsidy), with some money set aside (there was never going to be much) for help for struggling families.
That would still be the right approach, but this city government, and others like it, have almost no room to divert resources: too much has been spent – and wasted, truly – on big capital projects, fly-by-night capital catalyst ideas, and look-and-feel programs that ignore how residents truly look and feel (it’s a low-income community).
In 2006 or 2007 (before the Great Recession in 12.2007), one might have said that the city’s economy faced three possible futures: a crash (highly improbable with a public campus in town), stagnation & relative decline (from too many of the wrong projects), or gradual improvement year over year (in confirmation of town notables’ boosterism).
Now, over a decade having passed, and other parts of the country having recovered well from the last recession, Whitewater faces the middle prospect of those three possibilities from a decade ago: stagnation & relative decline (continuing over the near term). Time has held an incontrovertible referendum on the last decade’s approach.
It is a deep and profound loss that the city finds herself in this condition, but years inflated claims and happy-talk were never going to be a substitute for good policy.
Whitewater is a diverse place, with several large groups living and working alongside each other, and even as some struggle others of us are doing well. Some have always understood that our own comfort is only that – our own.)
(The great failing of Whitewater’s self-designated leadership class has been believing that their experiences were all residents’ experiences. There’s a difference between looking at the city and looking in a mirror.)
Yet even now, we may be hopeful about our medium and more distant future. No path is unending: relative decline – however painful in the short term for residents who always deserved better – will give way to a more realistic and productive community after present-day barnacles fall away. There are, fortunately, green shoots slowly growing – harbingers of a more broadly prosperous community years from now.
The City of Whitewater will soon adopt a 2019 budget, with a story or two written about it, but Whitewater has and will have the same economy before and after.