After the 2020 City of Verona budget went through months of construction by city staff, several meetings of the Finance committee, a 30-minute presentation in front of the Common Council and a public hearing with no comments, there wasn’t much left to discuss.
Alders had no questions Monday night for the finance director or city administrator, who had a week earlier laid out the many reasons this budget had far less room to maneuver than a typical Verona budget.
For the most part, that came down to a couple of years of slow growth – mostly in 2018, but also looking ahead to 2019 projections – plus several commitments that couldn’t be avoided and an effort to curb mounting debt.
For the first time in many years, the state levy limit, rather than tax rates, was the primary consideration, leaving the Finance committee’s proposal published Oct. 31 with a 2.2 percent tax cut that will save the average homeowner about $35 on this year’s city tax bill. The average Verona home is worth $272,000.
The tax cut offsets a $40 increase last year that was mostly the result of an error by the city assessor, who was fired a few months after alders reluctantly accepted they could not correct it in the 2019 budget.
City taxes are about 30 percent of a property tax bill. Full tax bills, including taxes from the school district, county and technical college district, annual fees such as garbage, as well as credits, will be mailed in mid December.
Finance chair Ald. Chad Kemp (Dist. 1) took a moment out of the council’s 25-minute meeting to thank city staff for their hard work and recognize the overall effort the city’s budget requires. This year, the committee had to whittle down more than $1 million in department requests to hit its mark.
“It’s been a difficult process given the situation we’re in, but this is a good budget,” he said. “We’re going to continue to work to better our financial situation.”
In a departure from prior years, the 2020 budget uses no debt for the more than $600,000 it allots for capital road and sidewalk maintenance. It funds a contractually obligated $132,000 increase in library staffing, pays for a $125,000 program to ensure crossing guard locations are better staffed and includes a 2% cost of living adjustment for non-union staff.
The budget also eliminates two positions – the economic development manager role held for the past year-and-a-half by Dayna Sarver and a vacant deputy chief position for the fire department. Those cuts, which appear to be the first since the early 1980s, will save about $219,000 in wages and benefits next year.
The 2020 budget also puts on hold several pet-project initiatives, such as a sustainability study, diversity training and police body cameras.
Prior obligations had an impact on the limited flexibility of the budget, as two mid-year hirings – an additional ambulance crew and a police officer – left the city with an increased $135,000 commitment this year. And the four elections in 2020 add $31,000 to the previous year’s budget.
Much of that is offset by an increase in debt service of only $160,000, far less than the $450,000 in the 2019 budget.