Update: This post was edited to reflect that the budget acted on by the common council included a 5.7% levy increase for 2018 — exactly the amount approved in the public safety referendum. This change, which I supported, was made prior to the public hearing.
We have published our 2018 city budget, and it was another difficult one.
The public safety referendum result certainly helps, allowing us to adequately fund our paramedic program and add two new police officers, while helping us avoid potentially deeper cuts. But it does not solve many of our annual issues we face in funding our city services.
Costs go up. Yet with constraints put on us by the state for more than a decade, it is increasingly difficult for our budgets to keep up. This has left us — and dozens, maybe hundreds of small-growth communities like us across the state — to make hard choices to balance our budget, while trying to invest for the future.
We live within our means in South Milwaukee, and we deliver strong value for your taxpayer dollar. “Doing more with less” is a mantra for us, and I am proud of the work our people do every day to deliver the services you have come to expect from us. This budget delivers on that promise. Again.
After months of hard work by our city administrator, department heads, the council and others, we will present this budget to the community at a public hearing at 6 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 20, and a likely final vote by the Common Council the next night. Here are a few details …
- The city tax levy is projected to increase 5.73 percent from $10,764,455 to $11,381,095.
- Expenditures are projected to increase 4.28 percent, to more than $20.5 million.
- Revenues are projected to increase 1.61 percent, to almost $9.1 million.
- The tax rate will not be set until the final budget is passed. I will share that information in a future post.
The proposed budget makes long-term investments in our city and its services.
It includes the creation of dedicated fund to protect the additional funds raised through the referendum and ensure they are spent where they are supposed to be spent. Of note, $348,212 of the $616,641 raised through referendum is going to fund operating costs for paramedics and the new officers in 2018; the rest is going toward building fund balance that will eventually be used to deliver these services as costs increase and paramedic revenues decline over the next decade.
We’re also making an investment in economic development in this budget, allocating $123,520 (about half of that from the tax levy) toward economic development activities in 2018, including the recent hiring of our new economic development director and additional consulting services to help us through the amazing amount of change, challenge and opportunity we’re facing across the city when it comes to redevelopment. I’ll talk more about that in a future post.
We’re investing in our front-line people, too. The budget includes a 2 percent across-the-board salary increase for employees, including police and fire union members, whose contracts expire at the end of the year. This is to protect the investment the city made in the compensation pay plan, and to keep us competitive in the marketplace for talent, something increasingly difficult to do.
Health insurance continues to be a budget challenge, as we work to maintain a competitive benefit despite significantly rising costs. For years, we’ve done that through plan design and premium contribution changes. This year, our renewal came back at +3.5 percent, or more than $92,000 in additional costs. All in, health insurance will cost the city more than $2.8 million in 2018.
The budget includes new revenue sources, including a $110,000 increase in state transportation aids, and the following recommended user fee increases:
- An increase in the self-deposit station daily usage fee from $2 to $3 – still a bargain compared to many other area communities. In an independent study of our Street Department earlier this year, we were told this a “Cadillac service” that few, if any communities, provide at the cost we do. We are proud to continue to deliver it, in a more sustainable way.
- Changes to the special pickup and chipper policy. Unlike what you may have read online, the first special pickup or chipper job will remain free in most cases (those three cubic yards and smaller for special pickups; 12 cubic yards or less for chipper jobs). Fees will be assessed for larger jobs and/or additional pickups. For example, there will be a $25 fee for additional special pickups, and for those greater than three cubic yards, with another $25 for each three cubic yards beyond that. Similar fees will apply for larger and more frequent chipper jobs. This is a reasonable approach, reflecting that not all special pickups are created equal, and that this is another one of those “Cadillac” services that, even with the new fees, we will continue to provide a high level. Some area communities do not provide this service at all.
- A 15 percent increase in charges to users of our commercial garbage pickup service. Dozens of apartment buildings, businesses, schools and others use this service, which was a money-loser for us. This increase puts us more on par with what private collectors charge. It’s the first price increase in eight years.
- The addition of a $500 motor vehicle crash response and cleanup fee, charged to those involved in major accidents. It reflects the cost of services our first responders provide above and beyond patient care, from de-energizing vehicles to cleaning up the scene. Many communities charge this fee, which is usually paid for through insurance coverage.
We welcome your feedback on the budget, either at the public hearing or one-on-one. Or comment here.
I again thank everyone who had a hand in shaping this document. This is the single most important thing we do every year, and, while it’s not easy, it’s important work to ensure we continue to be good stewards of taxpayer (your) money.
I’m proud to say we are.