Friday, January 13, 2006

Another Walker success story

Well, Scott Walker has figured out a way to avoid having a Parks Department budget crisis in the summer, which he handled in 2003 by closing public swimming pools on some of the hottest days and taking other creative steps like laying off maintenance people and neglecting upkeep.

In 2005, there was no summer crisis because they used a creative new accounting system, apparently. So the deficit is just coming to light now.

Bear in mind that Walker is the guy who's running for governor based on his executive, management and budget experience.

Dave Umhoefer reports in the Journal Sentinel:

An estimated 2005 deficit of $2.3 million in the county parks was revealed today and has county officials scrambling to cut parks services and spending to avoid a repeat this year.

County officials said the surprising bad news was discovered only in recent weeks. It threatens to put the county budget overall in the red for the third straight year when the books are closed this summer.

Parks Director Sue Black said she took full responsibility for a fiscal shortfall that her department insisted as late as last week was a more-manageable $400,000 deficit.

Parks division officials worked from a separate, unofficial set of books than county budget officials to avoid reliance on “archaic” county financial systems, County Budget Director Stephen Agostini said.

Black told the County Board’s Finance Committee in December the deficit might be $250,000 but probably much less.

A pile of work orders that came in at year’s end contributed to the delay in noticing the problem, Black said.

“I was overzealous in trying to get parks projects done,” Black said. “I should’ve watched and assured that we only do the work we can afford.” Her goal, she said, has been to make a dent in some $19 million in backlogged parks maintenance projects.

Black said she would make additional cutbacks in seasonal parks maintenance staffing. That staffing has taken significant hits the past two years.

For now, only emergency maintenance work is being approved in parks, Black said.

She is considering, at some point, closing some skating rinks and warming houses at county lagoons, and discontinuing the grooming of cross-country ski trails.

“We have to review all programs,” Black said. “There’s not enough money to go around.”

She said layoffs of parks staff would be a last resort.

The County Board’s Finance and Audit Committee is expected to receive a “corrective action plan” from Black and Agostini at its Jan. 26 meeting. Agostini is recommending that his department take over fiscal oversight of the parks system.

The parks budget was combined in 2004 with county facilities management and the landscape and architecture division as part of a merger proposed by County Executive Scott Walker and approved in modified form by the County Board. The facilities division is the landlord for most county departments. After a county audit criticized the new parks-public works merger, supervisors undid it for 2006, making parks a separate department again...

Agostini said his department warned the parks division several times during the year about apparent deficit problems, and temporarily shut down spending in July on accounts for some services and supplies.
It's great that Sue Black has already taken full responsibility, because if there is one thing you can count on it is this:

Scott Walker or Steve Agostini will never take the blame for anything that happens. In their world, it is always somebody else's fault. [I discovered this too late in the day to do me much good, but today is Blame Someone Else Day.

Jim Rowen would say this is Reason #4559 that Walker should get out of the governor's race.


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