Thursday, December 18, 2014

SEWRPC annual banquet could fund 9,000+ meals for the poor

Food for thought:

Feed America Eastern Wisconsin is one of the leading meal providers to seniors, families, laid off workers and other disadvantaged people. It says every dollar spent through its food relief programs can provide five meals at 20 cents a meal:
These programs are truly on the front lines of hunger relief serving families, children, individuals and senior citizens all wondering where their next meal will come from. These are people and families making tough choices, such as choosing between paying their rent and buying food. These people are a recently laid-off worker whose bills have stretched her budget so that there is little or no money left for food. These people are senior citizens living on fixed incomes who spend what limited money they have on their prescription medication, leaving nothing left for groceries.
Guided by the group's formula as a guide - - and note that its territory overlaps the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission  - - the cost of this year's taxpayer-provided private club dinner for SEWRPC Commissioners, some senior staff and invited guests of $1,848.85 could supply more than 9,000 meals to people in need.

In response to a question which I have posed before about the annual dinner, SEWRPC Executive Ken Yunker provided this updated information to me by email Wednesday about this year's dinner for twenty-three attendees:

As noted to you in previous years, the dinner which follows the Commission’s December meeting is an awards dinner and gathering for SEWRPC Commissioners. The dinner honors the service of those Commissioners who have left the Commission in 2014 and those Commissioners who have served the Commission for 10 years and 25 years. The dinner helps build relationships and understanding among the Commissioners from the Region’s seven counties. The dinner is attended by current SEWRPC Commissioners, former Commissioners who left the Commission in 2014, and select SEWRPC staff.
Commissioners spend many hours reading and reviewing reports, directing and advising staff, meeting and consulting with local officials from their Counties, and attending Commission, Commission Advisory Committee and other Commission-related meetings including public meetings and hearings. Their only compensation is $50 per Commission meeting. The dinner and gathering was held on December 3rd at the University Club. The cost was $1,848.85.
I also note that this year's dinner tab was about twice the $995 cost from SEWPC's taxpayer-supplied annual budget of the 2009 event and about 80% above the $1,080 average expense to put on the dinners over a five-year span, according to data supplied by SEWRPC.

Milwaukee County taxpayers contribute the largest amount of funds among the seven counties - - Kenosha, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Walworth, Washington and Waukesha to SEWRPC's annual budget, records show.

The agency 2015 budgetcalls for a Milwaukee County contribution of $808,715, or 34% of the $2,370,000 from the seven counties' contributions through their respective county boards, according to a chart on p. 13 of the SEWPRC budget.

With other revenues, including state and local grants, SEWRPC will spend about $7.5 million in 2015: its budget, the Milwaukee County dollar contribution and its percentage share relative to the other six counties' is relatively similar to the funding breakout in this 2008 posting about SEWRPC.

And look: I know the SEWRPC commissioners give up many hours at meetings which are spread across a multi-county region. And plenty of agencies have annual parties or other events to honor hard work and have a good time.

But dinner at a private club strikes me as unnecessarily lavish, and somewhat tone deaf, given SEWRPC's public mission and funding.

Footnote: I know SEWRPC isn't going to change its practice. Tall commissioners serve by appointment of various other officials; here are no elections to the Board, so there's no one to vote out of office to protest the annual freebie.

And I also know the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors will continue routinely sending SEWRPC its annual gob of taxpayer money - - the agency, through seven counties' property tax sharing, and other funds, is 100% government supported - - that includes my share that is peeled right of the property tax bill I paid this week, but I can keep focusing light on the issue, and I can also send Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin a donation.

Which I did Wednesday afternoon.

Fund Development
Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin

1700 W. Fond du Lac Avenue
Milwaukee, WI 53205

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