Alders passed three amendments into the 2019 city budget Nov. 13, but the tax rate will drop slightly from last year, meaning a $7 reduction in taxes for most residents.
The budget includes a 3 percent wage increase for city personnel – about half of the compensation plan favored by the mayor – and $2.7 million in borrowing for road projects.
Alders passed three amendments to the budget, but only one that affects next year’s general fund: $1,000 for Affordable Transportation Program, a service that provides rides to medical appointments and job interviews that would otherwise be too expensive for people to take. The others were to move $33,000 in grant funding from 2019 to 2018 after learning the money would be freed up, and transferring $171,304 to the debt service fund from TIF 3.
The owner of a locally assessed $200,000 home will pay $1,672 in city portion of its property tax, down $7 from last year. However, the city reassesses homes on a rolling, 5-year basis, meaning about 20 percent of homes are reassessed each year, as well as any with major improvements.
Tax bills are sent out in mid-December, with the city’s portion amounting to about one-third of the total tax bill.
The council debated at length about the payment to Affordable Transportation, with some worried the group was receiving preferential treatment after its founder made a plea to Ald. Denise Duranczyk (Dist. 1), who brought it to the council.
“This group had the benefit of the ear of someone on the council and I don’t have a good explanation for the 10-20 other groups that couldn’t apply for this,” Ald. Lisa Reeves (D-2) said. “I’m very uncomfortable awarding this money.”
After alders approved the $1,000, they asked city attorney Matt Dregne to draft a proposal for a fund other groups could apply for in the future.
Alders had few other comments Nov. 13, other than a round of applause for Jamin Friedl’s first successful budget.
Friedl and first-year Mayor Tim Swadley encouraged department heads to present their budget requests without regard for what could feasibly get done in the tight budget circumstances so the city would know what staffing costs would face them on the horizon.
The budget does not fund major costly positions like an economic development director, firefighters or a police officer the departments had asked for. It also lacks funding for the community survey the mayor had promised in his campaign, which had been funded at $15,000 during previous budget discussions.
They city raised its levy $525,000, with $450,000 of that going to pay for previous years’ debt. Levy limits left Stoughton with about $113,000 to increase its operational costs.
The city is squeezed by levy limits, or as Duranczyk put it in an October meeting, “micromanaging by the state.” State law leaves new construction as the main way to grow a municipality’s levy, and Stoughton has seen slower growth than its Dane County neighbors.
That leaves the council long on demands for projects but short on the money to accomplish them.
Duranczyk has suggested a couple of options for increasing year-over-year revenue, including asking the Opera House to move toward financial independence and shifting money between funds to be able to use fund balance to pay for recurring costs. That could be enabled by the gift of the McFarland State Bank building.
Next year’s planned borrowing includes $88,500 for engineering and design work, including for trails and riverwalk improvements, for the proposed whitewater park project. $50,000 of that is earmarked for RDA trail improvements. It also includes $100,000 for costs expected to come from the McFarland State Bank building and $280,000 in increased contributions to preventive maintenance funds for sidewalks and roads.
Big projects to come next year include demolishing the Public Works Garage on Fourth Street and moving into the new facility on the east side of the city, a $700,000 fire truck, and road improvement projects.
The budget also includes $2.6 million in borrowing for Glacier Moraine Drive, a road the city is contractually obligated to at least partially complete by 2020.