Wichita needs a bargain on parks maintenance

As the City of Wichita struggles to make its budget work, one proposal is to reduce the number of parks workers, replacing them with contract workers. The city believes it could save $1 million per year. Parks workers and the union officials that represent them are opposed to this plan. Taxpayers, however, should be relieved that the city is considering this action, and should be asking why this wasn’t done last year.

There’s a lot of misconceptions surrounding this issue. At a public hearing held on July 1, a speaker said that the private sector lays off workers because there’s no demand, and that’s not the case with the city’s parks.

That’s not entirely true. Sometimes companies reduce employment levels because of the need to reduce costs. The same amount of work — sometimes even more — must be done.

This speaker went on to say that layoffs won’t save taxpayers money because the workers will need to pay for health care, retirement, food, rent, and mortgages. “Dumping these people on the street,” therefore, means that the taxpayer pays for these things in other ways. This is false. While taxpayers may pay for unemployment benefits and some social services, they’re not going to pay for things like retirement plans for laid off workers.

It seems as though this speaker — and a few others — view the city as a magical moneymaking machine. Pour in a few tax dollars, some work gets done, and the money spent on salaries magically creates wealth in our community.

This is exemplified by another speaker’s remarks on the effect of the parks workers on the local economy: “For every one dollar we earn, it has a 10 to 15 dollar effect to the positive.”

This is absurd. If such a statement were in fact true, we should pay the parks workers — all city workers, for that matter — more. And we should hire as many as we can find.

We must remember that it is taxpayers who pay the wages and other costs of city employees. If allowed to keep more of their money instead of sending it to the government in the form of taxes, taxpayers will spend and invest that money in ways that generate economic activity and jobs. There’s nothing magic about government spending in this regard.

In fact, government spending produces less benefit than private spending. One of the seven principles of sound public policy as defined by Lawrence W. Reed is “Nobody spends somebody else’s money as carefully as he spends his own.”

While the parks workers have spoken and their union representatives have written op-eds in the newspaper, few have spoken for the beleaguered taxpayer. And in a time of reduced employment in our community, it’s important to keep the cost of government as low as possible.

The city has a responsibility to its citizens to operate as efficiently as possible. If it is possible to have work such as park maintenance done less expensively, the city should do so. It should have done so long ago.

8 Comments

  • The decrease in park maintenance and its workforce is because the City of Wichita is broke. The inept Mayor Brewer and lame duck council members (Gray, Schlapp, and Skelton) will continue to squander the taxpayers money and increase your taxes (increased water rates, alarm fees, etc).

  • Benjamin -

    Many companies would bid thus creating competition. I do fear though that they would give the contract to whoever lines their fool’s gold pockets.

  • I’d agree with you on this issue Bob. Civil service is simply another form of unionization. Many government employees think they are entitled to their job. Workers get compensated through a pay structure or matrix and there is little incentive based upon productivity. Using contract workers will allow the market to provide labor services at a lower price point.

  • Pat wrote the following:
    “Workers get compensated through a pay structure or matrix and there is little incentive based upon productivity. ”

    This is TRUE, however hiring contractors to do your work solves this problem while creating another. In order to BE the contractor you have to bribe the city council membership / mayor. Bribing the most will not make your company more efficient, in fact it should make you less inclined to work hard, after all you “paid for” your job.

  • City workers are taxpayers too and they have the right to protect their income and their families. The real issue is the financial mismanagement of the taxpayer’s money by the City staff and the elected officials. Whether to outsource the park jobs or not is a consequence of the financial problems. The other issue is that Mayor Brewer promised in his campaign literature and public forums that he was going to create more jobs in Wichita. Unemployment in Wichita (since he took over only two years ago) has more than doubled; over 7,800 manufacturing jobs have been lost and now his own City employees must go! The Mayor needs to get back the $6 million dollars he gave to Bill Warren; cut his huge travel budget; and eliminate his office’s overtime budget.

  • @ Mike – “In order to BE the contractor you have to bribe the city council membership/mayor.” – That’s not even close to being true. The city has a procurement process for those types of services that is open and competitive.

    @ Cybex – “The other issue is that Mayor Brewer promised in his campaign literature and public forums that he was going to create more jobs in Wichita. Unemployment in Wichita (since he took over only two years ago) has more than doubled; over 7,800 manufacturing jobs have been lost and now his own City employees must go! ” – That’s quite a stretch. To blame the Mayor for the jobs lost in this community is ridiculous. What would like him to do? Provide more tax dollars to “guarantee” the jobs in the private sector? OTOH, it is fair to point out that the Mayor did run on a campaign to create jobs. Has the Mayor or the city done that? That remains to be seen.

  • Benjamin -

    How about I or anyone on this duscussion run for city council. I am done taking it up my ass with no vasaline. How about you all? Government is a parasite. When will you all be ready to get rid of it? I am ready to get rid of it. Next elections comming up…… count me in! I live near Central and Ridge. I am sick of $65,000 dollar houses being appraised at $105,000 in 3 years. I am sick of all the wasteful spending and the typical popularity contest in this town. Do you people want to keep bickering amongst yourselves or have some real damn change?

  • Well, if you’re sick of real estate appraisals, city government is not the place to be. That would be state government and you would run against Jason Watkins in the House and, I think, Les Donovan in the state senate. Or you could run against Karl for county commission, but they have very little control over the appraisal process as I’m sure Karl is figuring out.

    The reality is that valuations are not the issue. Valuations reflect the free market which we all dearly love. That’s what appraisals do. It’s the spending that is being created at all levels of government that is the real issue. Your property taxes are used to fund all levels of government. The state gets 1.5 mills and roughly 20 mills goes to the state for K-12 education redistribution. The remaining mills are roughly 1/3 each to the city, county, and school district. 73% of city government expenses is for direct and indirect payroll expenses. So when you’re talking wasteful spending, be sure you can identify what is wasteful. My personal opinion is the USD 259 is the worst and has the largest budget yet gets virtually no scrutiny.

    I don’t know anything about you so this next comment isn’t directed at you, but the average citizen for the most part doesn’t have a clue about the budget until they get into office and it takes them about 4 years before they even begin to understand the financial dynamics.

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