Council Passes Budget Raising Taxes 1.44%
But Mayor Jeff Scrima is considering veto despite rounds of cuts that include one police officer position.
The Waukesha Common Council passed a budget that will raise taxes on the median homeowner in the city by $27.39, but managed to restore funding for two firefighters and a detective while removing furloughs for city employees.
However, the budget passed 9 to 6, which means Mayor Jeff Scrima, who has pushed for a tax freeze despite initially recommending a $136 garbage fee that would have increased total bills, may veto the measure. Scrima has until Monday to issue a veto on the budget, which he said he will consider.
The city’s tax levy will increase by $52.15 million, which is 1.44 percent compared to the 2011 budget. The increase is about $742,000 between 2011 and 2012.
Four people spoke during the budget hearing urging the council to implement a tax freeze. The result on the tax bills is a $27.39 tax increase on the median home, which is valued at $187,300. However, when adding in the county, state, Waukesha County Technical College and school district taxes, the tax bills will decrease by $27.97 for the median homeowner.
Voting for the budget were:
- Paul Ybarra
- Joan Francoeur
- Kathleen Cummings
- Chris Hernandez
- Joe Pieper
- Roger Patton
- Steve Johnson
- Terry Thieme
- Duane Paulson
Voting against the budget were:
- Eric Payne
- Vance Skinner
- John Kalblinger
- Rick Hastings
- Brian White
- Andy Reiland
But since Scrima has until Monday to decide on a veto, there could be another budget meeting. Scrima said he will speak with residents, council members and city staff before making the decision.
“Given the multiple solutions that have been presented this last month, wouldn’t it be better if we balanced the city budget?” Scrima asked.
The council did approve a balanced budget, but it did not have a tax freeze like the mayor wanted. One alderwoman begged the mayor to make his veto decision as soon as possible.
“Do it tomorrow so that we can have the 24-hour notice and that we can meet next Tuesday,” Cummings said. “… If that is your intention, do it right away.”
The $52.15 million tax levy still includes the elimination of funding for 9.5 full-time equivalent positions, including a patrol officer position. Another police officer, a firefighter, a firefighter lieutenant, the children’s librarian and city administrator will be hired at varying dates between March and April.
The decision was made after about three hours of discussion. The meeting, which was scheduled to begin at 7 p.m., was delayed because the mayor was late by nearly 30 minutes. Ybarra, who is the council president, declined to start the meeting while waiting for the mayor.
Furloughs removed from budget
When it came to pulling four furlough days from the budget, which could have saved $284,000, concerns about equity among employees and a temporary budget solution were addressed by several aldermen.
Ultimately, Hastings, Payne, Reiland, Kalblinger, Skinner and White voted to keep the furlough days in the budget, but they were turned down by nine other aldermen. Ybarra, Francoeur, Cummings, Pieper, Patton, Johnson, Hernandez, Paulson and Thieme voted to remove the furlough days from the budget.
“Furloughs are really short-term financial band-aids,” Ybarra said. “… It doesn’t make the problem go away.”
“This is a band-aid and it is a quick fix, but it is a fix,” Hastings said.
Reiland argued that the city employees will not be seeing a cut in their paycheck in 2012 because of furloughs because they are scheduled for a 1.5 percent pay increase next year. The four furlough days would balance that pay increase, he said.
“They are not taking a cut, in fact they are getting four additional days off of work,” Reiland said. “2013 begins a whole clean slate. I support the four furlough days because it really does not affect the income of the city workers that we are asking that this apply to.”
Payne felt that four furlough days were not enough and said he would support seven furlough days.
“Right now the taxpayers need a break,” Payne said. “I think it is time that we give it to them.”
Cummings noted that 96 non-union employees are paying 5.8 percent toward their pension, which is half of their total pension costs. Union employees are in their contracts until the end of 2012 and then will have to start contributing the same amount. Collective bargaining for police and fire employees was not eliminated under Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial legislation.
“It isn’t the same for them,” Cummings said about the non-union employees. “We have another group of employees that are untouchable. The only way to do it fairly is to not do it at all.”
Francoeur talked about when the Common Council started to negotiate its 2010-12 contracts in good faith with the city employees in 2009 when the economy was projected to become worse. That’s when they negotiated a wage freeze in 2010, higher contributions to health care costs and management and screening programs for health care, which saved the city $983,000. In exchanged, pay increases were agreed to – 1.5 percent in 2011 and 1.5 percent in 2012 – increases that were “greatly offset” by the health care contributions, Francoeur said.
“The council is the ultimate employer here,” Francoeur said. “… We have an obligation for trust here. We have entered into the agreement. The other signer of the agreement lived up to their pledge, and I think we need to do the same.”
Attempt to delay funding for city administrator
A motion to remove funding for 2012 for the city administrator’s position fell flat on a 10 to 5 vote. Skinner, White, Payne, Kalbinger and Cummings voted to not fund the position in 2012 but they were turned down. The remaining 10 aldermen agreed to fund the position, which is budgeted for a March 1 start date. The city has not yet hired an executive search firm to begin the work in hiring the city administrator.
The city administrator position has been vacant since August. Scrima, in a previous budget meeting, supported hiring the city administrator.
Restoring police, fire positions
The firefighter and detective positions that were placed back into the budget were approved on a 8 to 7 vote. Cummings, Hastings, Reiland, Kalblinger, Payne, White and Skinner voted against funding the positions in 2012. However, the police and fire departments could have brought positions back for considerations if they had found money in their budgets.