Responsibly Stewarding Your Money: 2021 Budget Hearing Set for Monday

The proposed 2021 City of South Milwaukee budget was published earlier this month, and the public hearing is set for 6 p.m. this Monday. The City Council meets on Tuesday to consider passage.

You can see an updated version of the document — reflecting new data that has come in recently — here. Some highlights …

  • Revenues are expected to increase 0.08%, to $9.55 million.
  • Expenditures are expected to increase 0.58% to $21.88 million. 
  • The budget calls for a 0.99% increase in the city tax levy, to $11.6 million. The city’s net new construction growth from 2019 to 2020 was +0.07%; therefore the city’s base levy was allowed to grow by that same amount. This is the 13th straight year where the city’s net new construction growth measured 1% or less. The final levy increase is higher because the base levy limit imposed by the State of Wisconsin excludes post-2005 debt service payments. 
  • Health insurance continues to be a big burden for us, but we were able to bring down an initial proposed increase of 16% to under 10%.
  • The budget reflects the referendum passed in 2017, which has helped us keep funding for public safety stable and will for years. We have again segregated the extra revenue from the referendum to support the sustained funding of our paramedic program and the 2018 hiring of two new police officers. We feel it’s important to segregate the funds this way to ensure taxpayers can see the additional revenue is being spent in exactly the way we said it would. We will continue to deliver this transparency.
  • The published budget included a 2% across-the-board salary increase plus step advancement for general employees. Since the budget was published, the South Milwaukee Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 1633 and the city have come together on a new two-year contract, effective Jan. 1, that has a 1% pay raise on July 1, 2021; 2% December 1, 2021; and 2% July 1, 2022. The police union contract, which also expires at the end of 2020, is still being negotiated. 

Pandemic response will continue to be a priority in 2021. It has to. 

Of note, the 2021 budget does not include additional city funding for those efforts, as we continue to await additional support from the federal and state government (as what happened in 2020). Should that not come, which looks increasingly likely before the end of 2020 amid the partisan back-and-forth in a broken Madison and Washington D.C., we will be forced to look at various cost-cutting measures — or drawing from our budget reserves — to continue the fight, in hopes reimbursement comes later. 

This is a situation local governments across the state find themselves in as we continue to lead on pandemic response — and why it is so critical that lawmakers, President Trump, and Gov. Evers take action now to help. 

No matter what happens there, we continue to be responsible stewards of taxpayer money, and this budget shows it. 

Ask Moody’s. They have consistently reaffirmed South Milwaukee’s strong Aa2 bond rating and recently cited our “strong financial position” in doing so.

Ask the Wisconsin Policy Forum. They recently found South Milwaukee’s per capita municipal tax levy to be the third-lowest among Milwaukee County communities. Similarly, we stacked up well in their measures of net operating spending per capita (second lowest) and debt (also third lowest). Do your own comparisons here.

As I’ve said, we are overly reliant on the property tax in Wisconsin, and South Milwaukee. Studies have shown this over and over again. We need alternative funding solutions, to ensure we can continue to deliver the services you have come to expect from us, enhance them where possible and maybe add new ones. Until lawmakers have the courage to have this conversation and act, things won’t change.

And it only gets harder from here, as the state faces a huge budget shortfall for its next biennial budget, one that may see significant pain pushed down to local governments. 

I will fight against that, reminding state leaders the most important work of government happens at the local level. Our people provide the services you see everyday, and I can’t thank our department heads and front-line workers enough for delivering, in these most difficult of times. 

Making sure our people have the resources to do their jobs is one of our most important mandates as elected officials. I will never forget that — and I will support budgets that reflect it, like this one.

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