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.