Just My Opinion – Who Didn’t See This Coming?
The Swanton Village Council just voted to give employees of the Swanton Police Department (SPD) a significant raise beginning at the end of this November and incremental raises for the next four years after that. The increase in pay was not only well deserved, it was years overdue but given, for the most part, to stop young police officers from treating the SPD solely as an apprenticeship program.
At the most recent Council meeting, Councilwoman Kathy Kreuz put it best. “You all know the turnover we have. We train them and they leave. It would be nice to be able to keep them.” she said. “But nine times out of ten they’re not leaving because they don’t like Swanton, they’re leaving because of the pay. And you can’t blame them with the way the world is now.”
Council President Craig Rose agreed the police officers deserved more money but he was concerned that it would take away money from other Village needs and it may still not be enough to be competitive with other surrounding communities.
I completely agree with Mr. Rose’s concerns. But where have those concerns been for all the years he has served on Council? What solutions did he and other Council members recommend beside dipping into the pockets of Swanton taxpayers? Our first responders, Police and Fire and Rescue have been underpaid for a very long time which goes a long way in explaining the revolving front door on both departments.
Finance Director Jennifer Harkey says the Village income tax, which funds the SPD, will be able to absorb the raises but that money will be diverted from the General Fund and not spent in other areas. To help alleviate the burden on the General Fund, the Village is looking at possibly placing 3.0 mil police levy on the ballot, which is a property tax that would generate approximately $231,232 annually. In effect, the solution to this problem is to again, raise taxes on Swanton citizens. Who didn’t see this coming? I am sure most of us did.
When Neil Toeppe ran for the office of Mayor of Swanton, a large part of his platform was focusing on economic development, new tax-paying businesses with new tax-paying employees and new homes that would help to properly fund Village services without having to raise taxes.
Soon after Mr. Toeppe was sworn in, he proposed several economy-boosting initiatives, including the formation of an all-volunteer Economic Development Commission (EDC) to attract new businesses into Swanton. The Rose-led Village Council summarily rejected his recommendations.
Mayor Toeppe brought his ideas before Council several more times without success as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and battered the national and local economy. Frustrated by the Mayor continually bringing up the issue, Mr. Rose, with the support of Village Solicitor Alan Lehenbauer and several other Council members changed the Rules of Council and took control of the meetings’ agenda and eliminated the Mayor’s input in Council meetings. Basically, there would be little, if any, talk of helping Swanton’s economy and generating more tax revenue. Even pleas to the Council from local business leaders to consider Mr. Toeppe’s economic plans fell on deaf ears.
In fact, the Mayor’s voice was silenced within the Council Chambers on virtually all issues regarding the Village. Mr. Rose had created a culture of blatant obstructionism and, as a result, the Village of Swanton is now two years behind an opportunity to reverse the image of the Swanton Village Council as an anti-business political body. And two years behind finding a way to increase revenue without burdening the citizens.
I applaud the Council’s decision to finally begin to pay our police officers more of a fair wage but I will never understand their decision making of the past two years that has essentially forced them into a tax increase bailout.
But now for the good news. All four of the Council members with expiring terms, including the two Councilmen who led the obstructionism, have wisely decided not to run for reelection. Whether it was to avoid a humiliating defeat at the polls next month or not, what only matters is they will be gone and the economic roadblocks they set up will eventually be gone with them.
The new Council will be met with major challenges beginning with the task of rebuilding the trust of the Swanton constituency. Change for the better will not happen overnight and we will need to be patient. But it will soon be on its way and we will all see it coming.