The future of our paramedic program and additional funding for police officers is officially going before the voters — you.
The South Milwaukee Common Council on Tuesday approved an operating funds referendum question asking taxpayers to increase the tax levy by $616,641, or less than 6 percent, to maintain current paramedic services and hire two additional police officers.
The special election will be held on Tuesday, November 7. If approved by voters, homeowners would pay an additional $52 per year for every $100,000 of their home’s value starting in 2018 and beyond.
Here is how the question will read on the Nov. 7 ballot …
Under state law, the increase in the levy of the City of South Milwaukee for the tax to be imposed for the next fiscal year, 2018, is limited to .09%, which results in a levy of $10,774,142. Shall the City of South Milwaukee be allowed to exceed this limit and increase the levy for the next fiscal year, 2018, by a total of 5.73%, which results in a levy of $11,381,095?
This funding would enable the city to adequately fund our paramedic program for years to come, and help us overcome funding challenges, arising from issues out of our control, that have been building for years. It would also help us add two cops, strengthening the second-smallest police force in the county, amid increasing demand for their services.
It took many years to get to this point, starting with more than a decade of state-imposed levy limits that have financially hamstrung fully developed cities like us (and many others) by not allowing us to increase the size of our operating tax levy more than the amount of our growth. That number is almost 0. For 2018, for example, the state says we can increase our tax levy by $9,688 … to fund our $19.7 million budget.
Costs increase. Our operating levy, essentially, can’t. And it’s been that way for a decade. We are paying that price now, and we will continue to, until the legislature fixes this.
There are other factors, too, especially when it comes to paramedic program funding: significantly reduced payments by the county and an increasing number of people on government insurance (and their low reimbursement rates), among them.
So while we have worked hard for many years, well before my time as mayor, to deliver strong value for your taxpayer dollar — and deliver fiscally responsible budgets that reflect our enduring reality of doing more with less — here we are … needing to address the underfunding of key services with the only tool the legislature has given us.
You can learn more about the referendum, find plenty of data and other background information on what led us to this point, and see what options we’ve considered to deal with these challenges here. I also encourage you to review the community survey results from this spring — which showed strong support, among respondents, for seeking to potentially increasing taxes to pay for these vital city services.
Also, look for additional communications in the weeks ahead via mail, our city digital and social channels, and public meetings. I’ll also regularly update on this blog, and on my mayoral Facebook page.
We know there are questions about what got us to this point, and the potential solutions for our funding dillemma. We will do our best to answer them.
We know this will not be an easy decision for many, and we do not enter into the decision to call a referendum lightly.
But we can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing when it comes to funding our paramedics — pulling money from our reserves to cover shortfalls. We can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing when it comes to our police — operating with a too-lean department when we are being asked to do more and more.
Enough is enough. We’ve kicked this problem down the road for too long.
On Nov. 7, we will see if you, the voters, agree.
And some legalese: Along the lines of my blog disclaimer, this post is my opinion and does not reflect that of the city or of the common council.