by Sarah Squires, editor-in-chief, Winona Post
The city of Winona has changed a lot in the last 10 or 15 years. In so many ways — I often think of the place I moved to work and compare it, and it’s been something of a revolution. Both the public and private sector are much different than when I came here; the politicians have changed, and the top administrators at the city, county, and school district have evolved, as well.
It used to be that whenever there was a proposal that included a big new expenditure at city hall (save annexation, they’d throw millions into that without blinking an eye), former Winona Mayor Jerry Miller had a line. “I’m thinking about the old ladies on fixed incomes, the ones who would get hurt by a tax increase,” he’d say. He’d bring up those fixed incomes, and whatever it was — extra police or firefighters, big raises for city employees — and the council would remember those ladies, and they’d rein it in.
I have not heard anyone mention an elder lady, or a poor person, at city hall in years.
Instead, following the recession, Winona has been on a wave of new spending. A lot of it I really appreciate — they’ve dolled up the entrance to Levee Park, they’ve increased the city’s participation in arts. But they’ve also raised taxes, considerably. They raised them by over 10 percent in 2017, following two years of more than six-percent hikes; last year, it was 6.99 percent, and this year they’re proposing a 5.38-percent increase. Our local property tax levy went from $6.51 million in 2014 to a proposed $9.18 million this year. That is huge.
And once in awhile, something comes up at city hall, and I hearken back to the day when we remembered old ladies on fixed incomes, and I wish that our leaders had a grasp on what it’s like to be one the way Jerry apparently did.
In the last few years, we’ve added two new administrators to the ranks at city hall – between salaries and benefits, those guys cost about $100,000 each a year. We have a new arts and culture coordinator, and a sustainability coordinator. I know Lee and think he’s doing a great job, but I, in all honesty, think he has some room on his plate in the realm of promoting arts and culture. I do not know John, and I don’t know what the heck a full-time sustainability coordinator does, but I’ve heard he is doing a good job, too.
There are probably old ladies on fixed incomes who would disagree with how busy these guys are in relation to their incomes.
Now, city hall wants a communications director. Or it wants a new website. Or they’re confused between the two.
Some on the City Council think Winona needs another $100,000 employee to bring you the news (never mind we do it for free). What would this person do? Errr ... after reading the council notes and interviews from News Editor Chris Rogers, I think it’s the kind of thing I ask my employees to do on their down time. Update the website. Email people. Spread the word. Not a $100,000 job. Not something us old ladies are willing to pay for.
Winona definitely needs some outreach, but the city of Winona already has plenty of well-paid staff to do that. Updating the website is a side job assigned to a secretary. Extra marketing should include a conversation between current staff and Visit Winona, which gets hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to market this city, and with which the city has been famously bad at coordinating. (It seems outrageous to think that a proposal for a new, $100,000-a-year staff person made it through so much of the budget process without such a conversation with Visit Winona.) And if city department heads need to do a better job of outreach, well. Holy smokes. Tell them, they all already make at least $100,000 a year, and they all have assistants. I remember being a little mad as a young reporter knowing the dude mowing the courthouse lawn made more than I did. Even your secretaries have a slice of time to spend on your outreach mission.
It’s true, Winona. You need a makeover, especially online. You need a new website, a one-time expense. You do need to better coordinate with Visit Winona; perhaps Lee can help with that. What you don’t need is another $100,000 employee to do it. If I didn’t honestly believe that, and care about Jerry’s old ladies, I’d just apply for the job.