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From $80,714 to +$70,463
City budget better with more aid, less insurance cost; worker raise vs. more hours proposed
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The Platteville Common Council is tackling the 2014 city budget twice in the next week.

The council held a work session on the budget at its regular meeting Tuesday night.

The council is also scheduled to hold a work session on the budget at a special meeting Monday at 6 p.m.

The $80,714 deficit the 2014 budget had after the council’s last budget work session Sept. 24 turned into a $70,463 surplus thanks to several budget changes.

The city will be receiving almost $133,000 more state and federal transportation-related aid than the executive budget, the first version of the city’s 2014 budget, had estimated. Expanding the city’s taxi service to add late-night hours also increased taxi grants from the federal and state government.

In addition, 2014 health insurance rates from the city’s insurance carriers are substantially less than the 11 percent increase in the initial budget. Medical Associates of Dubuque is increasing its rates 1.8 percent, and Deancare of Madison is increasing its rates 7.9 percent. The insurance rates save $33,000 in health insurance costs.

Refinancing some city debt will save the city money too. The Common Council agreed to refinance two federal Build America bonds that were used for street work and for construction of the new Platteville police station.

The city is also planning to pay off Platteville Development Corp., developer of Tax Incremental Financing District 5. The $3.5 million loan means the city will have to pay for all TIF 5 expenses, but will also receive all tax revenues from TIF 5 improvements, according to city officials.

The council discussed, but didn’t come to agreement on, ways to increase hourly employee pay.

Common Council President Eileen Nickels proposed keeping the 37-hour work week city employees have had since 2012, but giving full-time employees pay raises of 2 percent Jan. 1 and 1 percent July 1. Nickels’ proposal would cost $98,379.

Nickels’ proposal cost estimate does not include Police Department officers, who are under a union contract, and did not include employees of the city’s museums. Museum wages were not listed separately in the budget, but are funded by the city’s annual museum funding. The executive budget reduced the city’s museum payment to $190,000, but the council agreed Sept. 24 to restore 2013-level funding.

At-large Ald. Mike Denn proposed instead to return city hourly employees to a 40-hour work week, but with no pay increase. Denn’s proposal would cost $93,311.

The original budget included an increase in hours from 37 to 40, minus nine furlough days, each of which saves the city about $15,000.

Director of Public Works Howard Crofoot told the Common Council Sept. 24 that the 37-hour-per-week schedule would have less impact on the Street Department than a 40-hour week minus furloughs.

Crofoot said new Street Department superintendent Bill Johnson “is saying he’d prefer staying to 37 hours instead of furlough days.”

Denn, who campaigned on restoring the 40-hour week, believes nine furlough days are excessive. Denn suggested 32 furlough hours, the equivalent of four days, taken in two-hour increments at the employee’s discretion.

“Furlough days — nine? That’s ridiculous,” said Denn.

When at-large Ald. Patrice Steiner said previous furlough days were predetermined, Denn replied of city employees he had talked to, “they would rather choose when they’re off.” Denn said the city will “need to keep furlough days to a minimum” because of the increase in insurance costs for city employees.

Denn’s suggestion to reduce furlough days from nine to four would increase employee pay by $75,000.

“Your challenge is, find that $75,000,” said Nickels.

Denn immediately suggested eliminating the communications specialist position, which is currently vacant.

District 4 Ald. Ken Kilian suggested eliminating both the communications specialist position and the city manager’s administrative assistant, a position being reduced from three-fourths time to half-time in the original budget.

“I think there’s value in having this position,” said Nickels of the communications specialist position.

“The council voted on those positions,” said Bierke, who proposed the communication specialist position in 2012.

“That happened then,” said Denn. “Now it’s a new council.”

“When I was hired, the position of the council at the time was that communications with the public needed to be increased,” said Bierke. “Part of it was trying to reduce the rumor mill.”

“Maybe there are some things you’d prefer not to do, but should continue doing,” said Denn of the administrative assistant position.

The council agreed Tuesday to reduce the communications specialist position from full-time to part-time, after a long discussion about the position.

The council Sept. 24 agreed to add four items — restoring the proposed $67,000 cut in museum funding, increasing police secretary pay by $1.41 per hour, increasing police sergeant pay, and restoring a cut in funding for soccer and baseball field lines.

Police Chief Doug McKinley requested increasing sergeants’ and secretaries’ pay. McKinley said a larger difference between sergeants’ pay and officers’ pay was needed due to sergeants’ increased responsibilities. He added that police secretaries’ pay had dropped below other city secretaries’ pay.

Adding three hours per week for city employees also resulted in the museum budget increasing. The first city budget cut museum funding by $67,000.

The city’s Museum Task Force recommended cutting museum funding, but not until 2015. The council voted to accept, not adopt, the task force’s report in August.

Nickels favored restoring the museum’s 2013 funding for 2014.

To that, Steiner said, “If you’re going to accept that one recommendation from the task force, you have to adopt all of them.”

“That doesn’t necessarily follow,” said Nickels.

“Why?” asked Steiner.

Denn proposed a city contribution to Independence Day fireworks, which cost about $7,500 per year.

“A lot of people like to come to Platteville and watch fireworks,” he said. “Why can’t we help a little bit?”

Denn said contributions to fund fireworks often aren’t made until days before the event.

Bierke called the 4th of July Celebration “a good community cause,” but added, “I would find it difficult as long as we’re talking furloughs and short work weeks to fund that.”

The council also discussed increasing the city’s room tax from 4 percent to 5 percent.

“It’s time,” said Steiner. “Cities around us — Dubuque is 7 percent, and we’re at 4. We’re way behind the times.”

About 42 percent of the city’s tax levy is going for capital improvements, up from 34 percent in 2013. That will reduce borrowing from 61 percent of capital improvement funding to 52 percent in 2014.

The council also discussed eliminating two proposed studies — one of the city’s economic development partnerships and one of city staffing — to increase funding for city IT projects recommended in an IT study earlier this year.

The original budget can be viewed at