By Jacob Mathias
The Wisconsin Rapids Common Council passed a balanced budget for 2016 at its meeting on November 17.
The budget was passed unanimously by the council with no members of the public coming forward prior to the vote. The total projected expenditures and revenues for the city come in at $37,292,569 which is a $2,349,440 increase over last year. The increases come mainly from areas of public safety, public works and construction projects, most of which are one-time expenditures and will not extend to future years.
“The 2016 budget has been prepared with the objective of no layoffs and no reduction in City services while addressing our needs in infrastructure, community development, public safety and overall well-being,” said Mayor Zachary Vruwink in his budget memo.
The 2016 tax levy is set at 1.1 percent, up from 0.8 percent from 2015. The levy increase is less than 2015’s and the maximum allowed by law based on new construction in the city.
“It’s a tiny increase that’s within our allowable increase,” said Vruwink.
While the budget shows an increase of $2.35 million, the majority of the added costs are one-time expenditures for utility and public works construction projects. Finance Director Tim Desorcy said state imposed finance restrictions make it difficult to raise the tax levy so property tax payers pay little into these increases. The restrictions also make it difficult for the city to perform necessary functions.
“We experience that with some of our street maintenance,” said Desorcy. “We just had to defer that until we can fit it in the budget. This year was just impossible with probably historically low expenditure restraint.”
Other notable cost increases for 2016 include approved wage increases/rollups totaling $185,482, health insurance cost increases of $102,127, and nearly a $17,000 increase due to the Worker’s Compensation rate classification totaling $304,609.
The Fire Department’s budget increased about $56,000 mostly due to the addition of three entry-level firefighter positions that will help eliminate overtime costs and fill the positions of near future retirees.
“I’m just looking at the best steps for our department and for the community,” said Kerkman. “Honestly, truthfully we’ve tried everything else. This is best step for the community and the department.”
Even with increases to salaries and insurance costs, the city ended up cutting contributions to health savings accounts by $244,570 and the Wisconsin Retirement System by $$24,560.
“It’s very razor thin of any additional dollars to apply toward any project,” said Vruwink. “They’re achieving their necessary outcome from the state perspective on the revenue side of things but it certainly doesn’t allow municipalities to invest in the necessary quality of life things we should be thinking about. It’s covering our basic needs but anything above and beyond is not met.”
Desorcy said the municipal budgets have slowly constricted a little more every year.
The 1.1 perecent levy imposed by the city is actually the lowest of the taxing entities with Wood County, the State of Wisconsin and Mid-State Technical Collage levying at 1.6 percent and the Wisconsin Rapids School District at 2.3 percent. All applicable property taxes are paid to the city who then disburses them to the other entities.
The next meeting of the Common Council is December 15 at 6:00 PM in the council chambers at City Hall.