With the firing of Public Works Director William Heider last week and the announcement that Brookfield will no longer have a deputy chief of police, village management has done what critics have been calling for some time now – they’ve eliminated management positions from the public payroll.
There are some in town who are chagrined at the decision, not the cuts themselves but the village manager’s aim. Political opponents have been calling for heads to roll in the village manager’s office, which is something that hasn’t happened to date.
Regardless, the elimination of the public works chief (who doubled as the de facto head of the recreation department) is a big slice of pie. The elimination of that position permanently will save the village $125,000 per year by 2011, which isn’t chump change.
Looking at the organizational chart, there aren’t many more positions to cut. Some trot out the village planner as an unnecessary and wasteful cost given the current economy and relative dearth of building or zoning issues to attend to right now.
Others have suggested eliminating the assistant village manager or the village manager himself.
People are pointing to administrative salaries as the way to save the jobs of those providing the day-to-day services in the village – public works employees, cops, emergency dispatchers, firefighters and office clerks.
Certainly, several of those positions have been, and remain, on the chopping block. Others simply have not been filled.
The truth is that all levels of government – local to federal – has finally reached a kind of tipping point with respect to the burden taxpayers can bear. Property taxes in Brookfield continue to rise to the point where a bungalow selling for $200,000 has a tax bill in excess of $5,000 per year and recently constructed townhomes and condos are pushing six digits.
People just can’t afford perpetually escalating salaries and pension costs that have traditionally been part and parcel of government employment, whether its village government or schools. The golden goose is cooked.
The future, if anyone has the political will to face it, is consolidation of services such as police and fire protection. Technology, communication and education have made this possible, but we are still functioning under a century-old model, where distances of just a couple of miles were real roadblocks to that kind of thinking.
Will that mean fewer jobs overall? Probably. Any consolidation is bound to limit numbers. Ask just anyone in private industry. Technology, communication and education have had a dramatic impact on employment numbers.
In the newspaper business alone, there used to be armies of folks who would stand at drawing tables, pasting ads, stories and lines onto cardboard sheets. Darkrooms had to be staffed with people who could develop film. Those jobs are gone courtesy of digital technology.
Politics will always look for devils and heroes, but they can’t stop the inevitability of the change that’s coming. The best leaders will find ways to deliver services more efficiently, with fewer people by harnessing technology and education.