The Waukesha Finance Committee made progress on the $2.7 million in cuts it needs to make in order to pass a budget in 2012 without raising taxes by agreeing to recommend that the council cut more than $1.2 million from the budget. The recommendation includes cutting one police officer position and reduces the amount of salt the city will have next winter.
The police officer position is currently vacant.
The Finance Committee also is recommending cutting the replacement of a police vehicle, making four squad cars that are being cut from this year's budget. Another budget adjustment of about $71,000 was made after the cost estimates for health care and dental premiums originally given to the city were reduced by the insurance provider.
The city still has to cut between $1.4 and $1.5 million, though, if there is to be a tax freeze and the Finance Committee is going to further review the budget at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. The budget was originally supposed to be adopted Tuesday night, but it is now delayed until Nov. 22.
Monday’s meeting was crowded as some community members asked for leniency in certain areas that were before the Common Council, including police and the Business Improvement District that is funded by an additional tax district.
Furloughs, Unfunding Vacant Positions?
pushed Monday night for a combination of not replacing vacant positions and furloughs in an effort to avoid layoffs. The city unions and non-union employees essentially declined the Common Council’s request for wage and benefit concessions. Union employees are in a contract until 2012.
Interim City Administrator Steve Crandell noted that some of the unions declined because there was not enough time after being given two days to agree to concessions, some felt their current contracts were negotiated in good faith and others did not want to modify the contracts unless inequities between bargaining units were addressed. While some non-union employees were willing to make concessions, others were not.
The non-union employees, though, made it clear that they wanted to be treated equally in the city, Crandell said.
Scrima called for the layoffs of 17 employees in an e-mail to the Common Council on Thursday. Scrima said Monday night that new state legislation would give the city time to go again to the unions to request concessions on the contracts that already included wage and benefit concessions from the employees.
“If the discussion goes well in the next three months, we could retract some of the cost saving measures we put in place,” Scrima said Monday night.
There are two additional poilce positions that are currently vacant, along with four firefighter positions on the list of roughly 1-1/2 dozen vacant positions. Scrima advocated keeping those positions, along with a city planner position and the city administrator position.
“My priority would be public safety, city administrator and city planner,” Scrima said.
Could Children’s Librarian Position be Gone?
But also in the list of vacant positions is the children’s librarian, who oversees all children’s programming and employees. The children’s librarian is retiring.
The library has reduced its staff by 12 percent to 15 percent since 2006, according to Library Director Jane Ameel.
“I would hate to see that service eroded,” Ameel said.“… Children’s is such a big part of what we do and we need someone to lead that team.”
Not Without Fireworks
Scrima and Common Council President Paul Ybarra came to blows early in the meeting when Ybarra told the mayor that the time for generalities are over after Scrima did not answer specific questions about what positions he did not want to fill.
“There is a difference between a need and a want, and I think we would all agree that public safety is a need,” Scrima said.
That’s when Ybarra had enough and asked the mayor to give the Finance Committee his recommendations as the city is running out of time to pass its budget. He eventually did outline his priorities.
“I am just going to remind everyone, the time for sweeping generalities is over,” Ybarra said. “We don’t have the time. If we miss our date, that means every taxpayer in the city will not be able to pay taxes this year and will not be able to claim the tax credit that comes along with it. “
Scrima fired back, asking Ybarra if he wanted to raise taxes in the current economic times.
“So mayor, I am confused on that because I don’t understand when you wanted to put $136 on everyone’s tax bill (as a garbage fee) yet call it a zero percent,” Ybarra said. “A fee is a fee, you pay more money. I don’t understand how in the last 20 days somehow it’s a reversal that it is OK to make people to pay $136 (more) but it is not OK to ask them ’Hey, if you want the same services, it might cost you $50 more.’ I am confused with your position.”
“Yes or no,” Scrima asked.
“We will see,” Ybarra said. But Ybarra did not stop there.
“At the end of the day, it is a tax,” Ybarra said about the garbage fee that Scrima advocated and that the Finance Committee rejected.
“You continue to attack the past to create a distraction,” Scrima said. “… We are not going backward here. We are not creating a trash fee.”
Finance Committee Joe Pieper echoed what Ybarra said as he also asked the mayor to provide his official budget recommendation as the Finance Committee is forming its budget recommendation.
“You are putting forth a recommendation for us to consider,” Pieper said. “We need specifics from you.”