At levels of government below state government, employee compensation is the single largest expense.
So it stands to reason that how much the City of Platteville pays employees — including how many hours they work — got the most discussion at a special Common Council meeting Sept. 17.
The 2014 city budget restores the 40-hour work week that was reduced to 37 hours per week for city hourly employees.
However, the proposed budget includes nine furlough days for city staff, which, for hourly employees, over a year would mean they would work 38.6 hours per week, based on not being paid for nine eight-hour days.
Director of Administrative Services Duane Borgen said the city saves about $15,000 per furlough day.
The city budget also includes no pay increases for city staff.
At-large Ald. Mike Denn said furlough days are “not necessarily a good thing.” Denn proposed 32 hours of furlough instead of nine days, and “Let employees control when they want to take the time off.”
Streets Superintendent Bill Johnson said he was “concerned about everything to do with the time off. … When we go to 40 [hours per week], our furlough days will be the busiest days of the year.”
The 2014 budget reduces the position of city manager administrative assistant from three-fourths time to half-time.
At-large Ald. Mike Denn asked whether the city needs a communications specialist position, which was added in 2012. The position will soon be vacant, with Communications Specialist Angie Donovan taking a different job.
Though the position is full-time in the budget, the position is being advertised on the city’s website as part-time. City Manager Larry Bierke said he reduced that position and the administrative-assistant position to save on employee benefit costs.
“There really aren’t any great benefits for this,” said Denn of the communications specialist position. “That position we never had before, and the city survived fine.”
That led to an argument about staffing between Denn and District 3 Ald. Barb Daus.
“The city manager has the authority to hire,” said Daus.
“You want to save money, here’s ways to do it,” said Denn.
“On the one hand you’re arguing for a 40-hour week” for hourly employees, said Daus. “And on the other hand you’re saying you want to eliminate a position.”
Daus criticized Denn’s focus on one facet of city government, streets, while not considering the importance of others.
“The kind of work I understand is this work, and I understand its value,” said Daus. “We as the council have to look at the big picture. … Just because these people haven’t been here before doesn’t mean we don’t need them.”
“Show me one benefit we’ve gained from that position,” said Denn.
“The city’s website is at least 100 percent better, if not more,” said Daus.
Daus then turned her attention to funding for a part-time lawn-mowing position for the city’s cemeteries.
“I think if you went out to the public and said, do you want to spend $110,000 on cemeteries, or do you want to spend $110,000 on anything else, I’m sure they would pick streets,” she said.
Police Chief Doug McKinley seeks more pay for his sergeants, which he said make only 6 percent more than police officers do. McKinley proposed that sergeants make 10 percent more than officers.
Officers received pay increases as part of the current contract with the city’s police union, while sergeants did not.
McKinley said the current pay level “does not, I would say, fairly compensate sergeants for their additional duties.”
McKinley said police secretaries also have a “significant gap now” of $4.23 per hour between their pay and the pay of other city secretaries. “They’re more than secretaries” and “they take a lot of abuse” at the Police Department counter, he said.
Another topic was the proposed cut in funding for the city’s Rollo Jamison and Mining museums.
The city’s Museum Task Force recommended cutting the city’s $250,000 in annual museum funding to $100,000 per year by 2019. The task force recommended beginning trimming funding in 2015.
However, the proposed 2014 budget includes a museum funding decrease to $190,000.
“We’re looking at a two-year period of more than $100,000 less in funding,” said museum director Steve Kleefisch, who submitted a $267,090 budget for 2014 based on increasing hourly employee hours as with other city hourly staff.
Kleefisch said the only way to reduce the museum budget to $200,000 would be to eliminate his position, or cut the full-time staff to about 7½ months of work.
The 2014 budget does not include the 1 percent room tax increase proposed by the Museum Task Force. Bierke said the city’s Tourism Committee opposed a room tax increase.
The proposed budget reduces capital project spending from $3.27 million as budgeted in 2013 to $2.47 million in 2014. The city is projected to spend $2.92 million in capital spending this year.
“Cuts to capital improvements, specifically street construction, will cause us difficulties in future years,” said Director of Public Works Howard Crofoot.
Crofoot said the one-half mile of Broadway scheduled for 2014 is equivalent to “a 110-year replacement cycle,” when he prefers a “30- to 35-year replacement cycle.”
Crofoot said road construction costs have increased “40 to 50 percent” over the past five years because of increases in oil prices and because bids from construction companies are not as low as they were during the recession.
Bierke added the budget did not include several other potential expenses, such as the Shared Ride Taxi expansion on Friday and Saturday nights, as approved by the council through the end of the year. The budget also does not include any funding for changes to the city’s Information Technology system as recommended by a consultant.
The budget was scheduled to be discussed during a work session at Tuesday’s Common Council meeting. Another meeting on the budget is scheduled in October.