The city will add three new positions next year and cut its tax rates by more than 4 percent under the 2018 budget approved Nov. 20. It also provides funding for Sunday library hours.
Nobody spoke at the public hearing, and none of the three amendments was adopted as proposed.
One budget-neutral amendment, to pay debt more quickly using more than $247,000 from reserves, was modified significantly. It ended up being accepted as a move of $225,000 from unassigned fund balance to a sick-leave payout fund, something finance director Brian Lamers said could have been accomplished without a budget amendment.
The other two amendments failed but sparked policy discussions that appeared to have accomplished the purpose of the requesters.
Ald. Sarah Gaskell (Dist. 2) requested spending $30,000 for a study of housing as a precursor to revising the city’s policies in residential development. That failed on a 4-4 vote and mayoral tiebreaker after Mayor Jon Hochkammer brought up the likelihood of being able to get such a study performed for free by the Capital Area Regional Planning Commission.
Ald. Luke Diaz (D-3) requested spending $30,000 on a study of the Badger Mill Creek and what the city could do to mitigate its potential entry into the state’s impaired waters list. That failed on a 2-6 vote after an admittedly long-winded staff opinion by public works director Theran Jacobson concluded that state agencies are putting massive resources into studying the matter, which is being caused by phosphorous.
In both cases, the mayor directed staff to contact the respective agencies for their assistance as soon as feasible.
The only other discussion on the budget before it was approved unanimously was a brief policy conversation on improving the overall process, along with the usual comments lauding the city’s financial position and the hard work of staff.
The 2018 budget meets every major department operational request other than an ambulance for Fitch-Rona EMS that Fitchburg was not prepared to co-fund. It includes almost every capital funding request, as well.
It cuts the mill rate on the 2017 levy by 4.3 percent, to $5.77 per $1,000 of assessed value. That’s a savings of $71 on a $272,000 home, despite home values increasing by 7 percent in 2016 alone. The city’s average home assessment hasn’t risen since the last revaluation, in 2013.
Notable expenses this year include a 3 percent across-the-board cost-of-living adjustment for employees, an additional patrol officer for the police department, a second case manager for the senior center and a project management position for the public works department that is intended to significantly reduce spending on major building projects.
The library also gets an additional $60,000 worth of staffing from limited-term employees to allow it to be open for a four-hour block on Sundays.
The city will need to continue increasing its spending on the library significantly over the next five years under an agreement it approved with Dane County the same night as the budget.
All municipalities pay a library tax unless they meet a minimum funding formula that’s based on population and equalized value. Recent rises in the city’s valuation would have required a $318,000 increase in library spending, an amount that was calculated too late to fit into the city’s budget or the library’s budget (which is approved by the Library Board). The agreement allows the city’s debt spending on the building to count but phases that out evenly over five years.