Columns » Ranger Rich

City budget: time to cry uncle



The esteemed leaders of our village, a clever bunch in the sense that they've somehow avoided having shoes thrown at them, made it official this week: The town is broke.

It came as no surprise. We'd all seen the indications. Little things. Like the way our street department stopped filling potholes and placed signs next to them offering to let us "See the Giant Meteor Crater" for $5.

Or the way the winter road-maintenance workers had to stop spreading anything on the streets and, when the roads got icy, could only afford to lean out the truck window and use some pretty salty language.

So we knew it was bad. But even in our darkest hour, I never thought I would ever be saying this: The kids won't be seeing Uncle Wilber's monkey for a long, long time.

(Here you can make your own joke. Although as a punch line I'd suggest, "That creepy guy who calls himself 'Uncle Wilber' sure looks a lot like Ted Haggard.")

Anyway, on Tuesday our City Council, as expected, slashed some 14.5 percent from the budget of nearly every city department. The only departments not whacked were fire and police, which will take only a 1 percent cut.

I think you know what even that small decrease in funds means for the fire department. That's right: They'll be eating the dalmatians at stations 2, 7 and 8. (For police, the cuts bring a reduction in overtime pay, meaning traffic officers will now have to doctor the readings on their radar guns on their own time.)

The meeting began with a prayer from a minister who looked at our City Council and asked God "to give these leaders the wisdom to guide the city in the right direction." A second later, Jesus appeared and blew a mouthful of holy wine out of his nose.

Then came the Pledge of Allegiance, that most solemn of oaths in which the Council followed the phrase "with liberty and justice for all" with an alternative ending, adding the words "except the homeless bastards. We're going to keep throwing away their sleeping bags and tents."

This was followed by a moment of silence, during which it dawned on everyone that when councilmen Tom Gallagher and Randy Purvis were younger, they must have looked exactly like two of the three zany Hanson brothers from the hockey movie Slapshot.

Next up was a resolution honoring a "property restoration" company that donated money to the fire department. Another resolution honored the anniversary of the NAACP, which proudly announced that now, in its 100th year, it has developed a powerful Republican-proof tape to hold up the photo of Barack Obama at the Peterson Air Force Base commissary for next year's Presidents Day.

And finally, before the action began on the budget, Council honored three of the village's outstanding teenagers, including a young man who, as Vice Mayor Larry Small said so eloquently, is a talented musician and "plays the GIT-ar" which is, apparently, similar to the guitar.

As the discussion of the budget began, a spokeswoman for Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services reminded everyone that while cuts would mean youth sports fees would have to increase, the department's Helping Hand program takes donations and uses the money to pay registration fees for kids who can't afford it.

(Note to poor kids: I wouldn't bother asking Gazette publisher du jour Steve Pope, editor Jeff Thomas or editorial writer Wayne Laugesen for any help. Their anti-government, pro-handgun newspaper recently voiced its opinion that kids are spoiled and don't need organized sports and should play the same old-fashioned kid games that Laugesen grew up playing, games such as "Shoot the Can," "Hide and Go Shoot the Other Kids," "Tag, You've Been Shot" and, of course, "Mother May I ... Shoot the Bastard who Took My Lunch Money?")

In a bid to scrape up some loose change, the Council approved a $500 increase in the daily rental fee for the city-owned, turn-of-the-century, downtown City Auditorium, a building Councilman Jerry Heimlicher said was "a unique facility" a reference to its storied history, its stunning architecture and, of course, the size of its rats.

And then with little chatter having done most of its talking a week ago Council voted, 6-3, to approve the drastically reduced city budget. Gallagher, Purvis and Darryl Glenn voted against it.

So, you might be wondering, what the hell was that line about kids not getting to see Uncle Wilber's monkey?

Well, the donated Uncle Wilber fountain in downtown Acacia Park has a blue dome that rises each half hour on summer days, letting the tuba-playing Wilber and his pet monkey "Spot" emerge to entertain not only the children but also the crazy people who live in the park.

But not this year. The movement is powered by an expensive electronic system that costs some $25,000 annually to operate and maintain according to Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services director Paul Butcher.

Outside City Hall after the budget massacre, Butcher sighed and glanced toward the park.

"The monkey," he said, "won't be coming up this year."

Last cut is the deepest

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