For a second year in a row, the City of Stoughton would add a single full-time position and deny several other staffing requests, under a proposed 2021 budget that will go to a public hearing this month.
The draft budget, prepared by finance director Jamin Friedl and Mayor Tim Swadley, would cut the tax rate by less than 1%, though that does not factor increases to home values, which have gone up by an average of 2%. City taxes are about one-third of a property owner’s tax bill.
The proposal also includes a 2% cost of living adjustment for union and non-union employees and $4.2 million in planned capital improvement projects such as road construction and riverfront developments.
It would provide 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.
The Common Council can review and adopt the budget after a public hearing at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 10. As of Tuesday morning, Nov. 3, Mayor Tim Swadley was still reviewing the draft budget, with changes possible before the hearing. One remaining unknown was a contract for a police officer at Stoughton High School.
The city is allowed to add roughly $135,000 to its levy under the state levy limit, which is tied to the amount of net new construction in the city (added value minus lost value). After factoring changes in revenue from state funding, increased costs such as health insurance and a $285,000 loss in revenue mainly because of COVID-19, the mayor’s budget proposes adding one position and would not fund the other six positions city staff requested (four of which are part time).
That is a trend that was similar to last year, when the city added a single part time position.
Unlike in previous years, the Personnel committee narrowed down the requests from department heads in September and October.
At an Oct. 8 Committee of the Whole meeting, Swadley said all departments did a good job advocating for themselves.
“We are really in a difficult place, and I can tell you that we are already advocating for next year’s legislative budget to try and get more local control (over spending caps) and look for exceptions,” he said.
The new proposed position for 2021 is a parks maintenance and CDL certified equipment operator who would be able to help with snow removal.
The school resource officer’s contract is still unknown for the 2021 budget, finance director Jamin Friedl told the Hub in an email on Monday, Nov. 2. It is possible the city would absorb more costs in the police department if Stoughton Area School District decides not to renew the contract.
The district has since 2013 paid 75% of the cost for the SRO’s role, with the city paying 25%.
Anticipated capital improvement projects for 2021 include the repavement of Nygaard Street and Roby Road. In addition, the CIP budget outlines nearly $200,000 for the whitewater park and controversial removal of the Fourth Street dam. Capital projects are authorized during the budget but are not funded or confirmed until mid year, when the city borrows through bonding.
Of the $4.2 million in proposed capital improvements, approximately 65% ($2.7 million) would require debt funding; $700,000 could be funded through grants, $325,000 will come from the city’s general fund and $500,000 will be funded through the city’s sinking fund, according to the draft budget executive summary.
The mill rate for 2020 is projected as $8.10 per $1,000 in assessed value, down from $8.19 in 2019. That translates to a drop of $10 on a $200,000 home, though the average home value rose by 2%, according to preliminary state figures.
The draft budget summary states that the city would use $25,000 in excess debt service fund balance and $35,000 in special assessments to lessen the impact of the mill rate.
With uncertainty continuing during the COVID-19 pandemic, finance director Jamin Friedl warned the Committee of the Whole – a special meeting of the Common Council – Oct. 22 that the city should be prepared for changes in 2021.
“The thing with city finances is we might not have a good picture until June, July, August in terms of making tough decisions,” he said. “We may not have to make any tough decision — who knows? But I think we all just have to be prepared for that because this is a weird time.”