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UPDATED: Mayor Scrima Calls for 'Savings' in Employee Salaries, Benefits

Mayor Jeff Scrima says employee wages and benefits are "the elephant in the room" during 2013 budget process. Union contracts expire in December, and city employees will be subject to Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair law.

This story was updated at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday with a clarification about Waukesha Water Utility benefits.

Employee wages and benefits are being eyed by Mayor Jeff Scrima as he looks for the 2013 budget to “provide our families with tax relief.”

The mayor told the Finance Committee on Tuesday he wants to have a “candid” discussion about the government employees’ salaries and benefits.

“The employee contracts are expiring at the end of this year,” Scrima said Tuesday night. “There is great opportunity for savings in the area of salary increases, health care packages and retirement packages. This is the topic that nobody wants to talk about. It is the elephant in the room. That is where the majority of the savings is.”

It’s not the first time Scrima has eyed employee salaries during budget talks. In efforts to not increase taxes during the 2012 budget, when his proposal to take garbage collection off the tax roll by , he strongly suggested that budget

The city employee contracts expire at the end of 2012, but the new round of employee contracts could be vastly different from previous years. Employee unions, with the exception of police and fire employees, will be required to

Status of other city employees

Police and fire employee unions have indicated they want to begin contract negotiations soon, according to Interim City Administrator Steve Crandell. Other employee unions are limited to negotiating salary under the new budget repair law.

“There is dialogue that is taking place,” Crandell told the Finance Committee.

Non-union employees have been paying for the health care and retirement benefits for a more than a year. Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial budget repair law allowed municipalities to require the employee contributions.

Waukesha Water Utility employees, although not affecting the tax levy, are also subject to the conditions of the budget repair legislation. Non-union employees were affected in August 2011 and former union employees began to contribute toward retirement benefits when the union decertified in January, according to Waukesha Water Utility General Manager Dan Duchniak.

Duchniak clarified Wednesday morning that the commission already implemented changes in benefit packages, including increased insurance deductibles, increased co-pays, "so that benefits were more in line with the private sector," Duchniak said.

The water utility's insurance premiums "are significantly less than those of city employees and even those of state employees," he said in an e-mail to Patch.

“The impact of Act 10 (budget repair legislation) is still to be finalized with police and fire unions, other union employees and pension rates,” Crandell said in a memo to department directors in June. 

Same level of service, hold line on taxes

Department directors have submitted the 2013 budget requests to Crandell and the Finance Department. Crandell will review budget requests before submitting the budget proposal to the Finance Committee for review.

Crandell told department directors in June that the budget will be similar to 2012, including salaries and benefits. The only way department heads can justify increases is by finding offsetting revenues. Crandell noted state law allows the city to increase the tax levy no more than the value of new construction in 2012.

“Since we don’t know the new construction for 2012, we cannot predict the impact on the 2012 budget at this point in time,” Crandell said.

The 2013 budget should keep taxes to a minimum while maintaining levels of service in the city, said a group of aldermen told Scrima Tuesday night.

But they also told the mayor that there’s a lot of work to be done on the budget. The aldermen want to review the proposed budget, state aid and proposed reductions before making any decisions.

“There are a lot of variables that we do not know yet,” Alderman John Kalblinger said.

Alderman Joe Pieper, who chairs the Finance Committee, said he’s committed to maintaining city streets and providing for the needs of the police and fire departments. But Pieper also wants to do it in a way that is “cost effective and respective of the tax dollars.”

“As we begin the budget process … I want to continue to ask all of our constituents — my constituents, the constituents of every alderman – to reach out to your alderman and let them know what might be important to you,” Pieper said.

One call for employee raises

Alderman Andy Reiland described the recession-driven budget process in 2012 as a “learning process."

“The economy remains fragile … and many in Waukesha are still concerned with making ends meet, with many living paycheck to paycheck,” Reiland said. “They expect us to run this city in a way that is respectful of their financial situation. Being mindful of this, I believe that our department heads can identify opportunities within the budget to present a flat 2013 plan that allows for needed improvement/increases, which are offset by identified efficiencies resulting in cost savings.

“However, we need to be very careful not to reduce any level of service that the citizens of Waukesha have identified as important to their health and well being. So we have some challenges again this year. I am confident that our city department heads will be aggressive in looking for ways to improve processes that allocate the taxpayer funds in the most cost effective manner.”

Reiland said he believes past practice of holding open vacant positions has worked well, and he’s “not opposed” to reviewing that practice again in the 2013 budget. He also noted that there is not enough information yet about salaries and benefits, state aid and training requirements. With the finding of “efficiencies” in departments, Reiland said he believes the city can give raises to its employees in 2013. The staff “deserves an increase,” he said.

Alderman Rick Hastings, who was unable to attend the meeting, said in a written statement to the committee that his goal is for a zero percent tax increase while maintaining the same level of services.

“That being said, it would delight me to add additional squad cars to patrol the streets as long as savings could be realized other places to offset the cost,” Hastings wrote in his statement, which was read to the committee by Pieper. “I state this as the desire for a greater police presence is also on the mind of many of my constituents. In the end the citizens want a well-run, safe community to live and raise their children and ultimately that is my goal.”

Scrima, when asked about his goal for the 2013 budget, mentioned that Waukesha Water Utility customers face There are “feelings of uncertainty in our community,” Scrima said.

“City spending should be in line with what our taxpaying families are experiencing. … We ought to provide our families with tax relief, which means saving families money,” Scrima said.

Mike Talin August 29, 2012 at 05:00 PM
I believe Mayor Scrima is doing the right thing. Many people cannot afford property tax hikes. The city cannot afford employee raises without corresponding lay offs and terminations. That said Mayor Scrima is disingenuous when he asked for a "fee" for services already being paid for by our property taxes. That was a clear indication that our Mayor speaks out of both sides of his mouth. Hold the line on taxes which also mean's fee's.
Sarah Millard (Editor) August 29, 2012 at 05:08 PM
@Mike, the city could potentially still give out raises for wages without raising the budget because employees are going to be paying more for health care (although they already do pay for some of the health care expenses) and retirement packages. There is a lot of unknowns in the budget right now, and more information should come out in late September. However, even with a small raise, it's unlikely the employees will see an increase on their take home pay because of the corresponding contributions to health care and retirement.
the 'sha guy August 29, 2012 at 05:29 PM
The council should remember that 5.8% is the minimum contribution requirment. There is nothing stopping them from seeking 10%-25% which would be more in line with what Waukesha residents are paying. For Reiland to be talking about raises just shows how quickly politicians fall off the wagon. Didn't he run on a platform of lower taxes and fiscal conservatism just about a 1 1/2 years ago? Now he is touting employee raises because they are deserved? I find it hard to believe that his thought process of higher wages is "fiscally conservative and a voice of the people in the district." as his website states. Going into the budget process with the thought of raises because "the staff deserves an increase" is simply irresponsible for any politician and definitely not what I or anyone would call a fiscally conservative position. It looks like it is time to update your website Mr. Reiland.
Herbert August 29, 2012 at 05:40 PM
The days of working for the City and "having it made" are coming to an end. It's time to put the public employees into a private sector job class.
Johnny Paycheck August 29, 2012 at 06:35 PM
Who have you ever known who's "had it made" working for the city of Waukesha? There may be a few top level directors, but most of them don't make very much and their departments are basically self sustaining-- paying their wages and benefits with permit fees, park pass fee's, etc.

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