Wichita parks system is not a jobs program

Harold Schlechtweg, business representative of Service Employees International Union Local 513 in Wichita, makes the case that Wichita needs to keep employing its present park maintenance staff, even though it appears there is a way to get the work done at a lower cost. (Cutting park jobs will hurt city, June 30, 2009 Wichita Eagle)

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.

Schlechtweg says that if wages and benefits are cut, the community suffers. Let’s remind him who pays the wages and benefits he’s trying to protect: the taxpayers of the city of Wichita. If the city can reduce their taxes and provide the same level of service, Wichitans benefit.

The idea that it’s good for a city to have highly-paid workers such as those the SEIU represents is highly self-serving. It places the interests of a few union members above that of the entire city.

If a private enterprise wishes to pay its employees higher wages than is necessary, that’s their privilege. But in the marketplace, companies can’t do that for very long, or they won’t be competitive with other companies.

The City of Wichita, however, doesn’t operate in a competitive marketplace. If it pays employees too much, it doesn’t suffer very much. Citizens may not even be aware that the city is operating inefficiently until stressful events like the current budget situation expose the situation.

Since the city doesn’t face the discipline of markets, it’s very important that citizens keep an eye on the city’s spending.

Schlechtweg’s argument — that the city should keep paying more to maintain parks than it needs to — is ridiculous on its face. It likens city spending to a perpetual motion machine: pour in more taxes to support more spending, and you get more wages and benefits paid to workers. That, in turns, feeds more taxes into the machine. The world doesn’t work that way.

Schlechtweg writes: “The bottom line is that workers’ wages and benefits are not the problem.” Unfortunately for the workers he represents, paying more than necessary to get a job done is a problem for Wichita’s taxpayers. If Wichita can save money at the expense of apparently over-paid workers, the city needs to do so, and now.

6 Comments

  • Earlier this month the Wichita School Board voted to end the Dunbar Daycare. It initially operated with some grant funding to provide daycare for low-income families in the neighborhood and needy district employees. Some time after it started in 2002 they lost the grant because they were no longer serving the people targeted in the grant.

    The going rate for daycare is about $145 per child. Dunbar customers paid $120 or $125 per month. District costs were about $220 per month per child. Taxpayers not only subsidized service for people who weren’t the intended recipients but helped take customers away from providers operating in the free market.

    So, how many more of these exist in local government? Not even your elected officials know.

  • Oldphart -

    “Since the city doesn’t face the discipline of markets, it’s very important that citizens keep an eye on the city’s spending. ” If we were to hold our city to this standard, we would not have the downtown arena folly. They have no common sense when it comes to huge expeditures yet they want to eliminate jobs that serve the public with repeated results. “Getting the work done” in a cheaper fashion was the beginning of the end for our economy in the first place. When will they learn that “you get what you pay for”….

  • Government is not a for profit entity, consequently, efficiencies and cost cutting are not in their dictionary. The downtown Arena is a Sedgwick County project not the City. We get what the developers have “paid for” and that is local government that benefits a few. Elections have consequences and when candidates with honesty and integrity run for office people are not voting for them. Citizens get what they voted for and those who did not vote made a decision to have others speak for them.

  • LonnythePlumber -

    Bob’s position that we shouldn’t maintain and protect the investment in our parks is wrongheaded. It’s lowering the standard of the work. Quit maintaining a vehicle and you lose your ride. It doesn’t mean you’re paying too much to take care of something. Clean maintained parks gives city people and their kids places to go. Letting our parks and people go instead of programs is wrong.

  • I think we have to realize that we can’t afford gold-plated parks and maintenance at this time. I don’t believe the city is suggesting we stop maintenance of the parks. They just want to do it less expensively. They owe it to us taxpayers to do so.

    Do union workers have some magic touch with lawnmowers that lower-paid workers can’t master?

  • […] has asked governments to boost taxes in favor of his union workers before. Last summer he told the Wichita City Council that it should not outsource the mowing and maintenance of city parks. Instead, he wanted the council to keep union employees on the […]

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