Two items in the City of Stoughton’s 2021 budget — gas masks for police officers and removing the Fourth Street dam — led to nearly two hours of discussion and public comment Nov. 10, but the Common Council passed it with no changes.
The 2021 budget will include a tax rate cut of less than 1%, which will be offset for many people with home values increasing by an average of 2%
The budget includes 19 gas masks for the Stoughton Police Department at a cost of $10,000, and nearly $300,000 associated with the proposed whitewater park and dam removal.
Ald. Sid Boersma (Dist.1) had proposed an amendment to remove a $282,907 line item to fund the dam removal, restoration and engineering studies of the park. The amendment failed 2-10, with Ald. Fred Hundt (D-4) joining Boersma in voting for it. The funding does not ensure the dam will be removed.
Boersma explained that he opposes the whitewater park because of the amount of opposition he’s heard.
Council president Regina Hirsch (D-3), a member of the Whitewater Park steering committee, defended the budget item, outlining interests previously expressed by Boersma and city alders.
“We need more single family homes, we need to encourage young families to come to our community and we need a more vibrant downtown,” she said. “This whitewater park checks all that. I highly encourage you guys to support this instead of trying to cut it off right as we are about to get it going.”
Hirsch’s amendment to remove 16 of the 19 gas masks from the budget also failed 2-10, with Ald. Ben Heili (D-4) joining her in favor.
Hirsch said the masks are sending a difficult message to the community and she doesn’t believe tear gas should be used on protesters.
Although the Stoughton Police Department does not have tear gas, police chief Greg Leck said local officers could be sent to protests in Madison or other cities. He said the masks are personal protective equipment against toxic chemicals and are not offensive in nature.
The budget also includes a 2% cost of living adjustment for both union and non-union employees and a $13,000 increase (2.5%) in funding for the Stoughton Opera House, which has been unable to hold shows since March and is anticipating a $80,000 loss in 2020.
It has a total of $4.2 million in planned capital improvement projects, including road projects and playground and park upgrades such as the riverfront pedestrian bridge construction ($475,103), Nygaard pavement replacement ($159,928), a backhoe ($119,000) and public works lawn equipment ($95,000).