Page 1 of your favorite weekly newspaper includes a story about the proposed 2013 City of Platteville budget, and opportunities to suggest changes to it.
The first thing to do is to read the budget, all 64 pages of it, downloadable at http://18.104.22.168:8080/City%20Manager/2013%20Proposed%20Budget.pdf. (Perhaps with a large cup of coffee either from your own kitchen or your favorite caffeinated-beverage purveyor.)
Reading municipal budgets may seem as exciting as watching grass grow, paint dry or cars rust. They are, however, blueprints of how the city plans to spend your and others’ tax dollars this coming year. While complaining about what Washington and Madison are doing is usually as successful as speaking to a brick wall, at this level, citizens have actual input, along with the ability to act accordingly upon decisions with which they disagree. (That’s called an “election,” the next of which for the city is April 2.)
The current version of the city budget contains the same mil rate as last year, $7.2262 per $1,000 assessed valuation. That and other revenues are funding a budget below the $8 million mark for the first time since 2008.
Under state law, the city could spend another $239,865.70 and still fit within expenditure restraint allowance levels. So why not spend the extra 3 percent?
The obvious answer is that spending more money means assessing more in taxes. A 3-percent general-fund increase, if all funded by the tax levy, would raise the mil rate to $7.5932 per $1,000, or, for the owner of a $125,000 house, $46 in increased property taxes.
Not only would that be $46 that can’t be spent on anything else, it would also be on top of the looming Taxmageddon, the end of the early-2000s federal tax cuts that were extended at the end of 2010, but will expire Dec. 31. You also may have noticed that state taxes have not gone down since the 2010 election.
That is not to say that every spending decision that’s been made so far deserves to become law. Ald. Barb Daus noted that the council’s number one priority as decided upon in a strategic planning meeting earlier this year was economic growth. Daus then asked the inconvenient, yet pertinent, question of how the city can do that while cutting $20,000 from the city’s funding of four economic development bodies.
Ald. Steve Becker then suggested that not every one of those four bodies deserves the funding they’re getting this year. Daus and Becker both make good points, and I’d suggest the city figure out fast where its economic development dollars are being spent most effectively, and then fund accordingly.
One suggestion from earlier this year was to reduce the number of buildings the city either owns or rents. One obvious, at least in theory, option is to move the Senior Center into the Municipal Building space vacated when the new police station was built, and then find a buyer or renter for the Senior Center building. Moving is not without costs, but the open Municipal Building space needs to be used for something that will ultimately reduce the costs of operating city facilities.
If aldermen are looking for a place to cut, I’d suggest the $15,000 that has been budgeted for a study of consolidating city dispatch with Grant County dispatch. Obviously a vote for studying is not the same thing as a vote to consolidate or close city dispatch. But I suggest that cut for two reasons — I have heard no one in Platteville who supports reducing city dispatch services, and for that reason I am for now skeptical that the council would vote to reduce city dispatch services.
Common Council President Mike Dalecki gave the opinion that the most essential services are police, fire, EMS, streets, water and sewer, and garbage pickup, and everything else, in his opinion, was optional. He also suggested that city spending focus on things that improve quality of life, and not on things where the city does services that could be done more cost-effectively by one neighbor for another. (The specific example he used was brush pickup.)
Given that, where do Platteville’s museums fit in? At first blush, the proposal to zero out the museum budget and find a nonprofit to run the museum seems not entirely thought out. (That’s been known to happen as the clock ticks toward the end of a fiscal year at higher levels of government.) If spinning off the museum is a good idea, it requires at a minimum a multiple-year plan with funding sources, not to mention the answer to the question of whether a spinoff from city control is even legal.
Another area of cost savings is at this point theoretical. A former mayor of a Wisconsin community once asked why neighboring cities couldn’t get together on purchases of expensive but not-often-used equipment. I have yet to hear a good reason to oppose that idea. You’d think among 190 cities, 402 villages and 1,260 towns, some purchasing cost savings could be found.
Ironic irrelevant side note: I will be calling Friday’s Lodi–Platteville playoff game on WPVL (1590 AM) and WGLR (1280 AM). This is the first time I’ve called a Platteville playoff football game, but I’ve called two Lodi playoff games before, for Ripon’s cable TV channel. They were two of the best games I’ve ever seen — a 21–14 Level 4 win on the way to Ripon’s second state football championship in 2005, and then, the next year, a 28–26 upset in which Ripon blocked the game-winning field goal as three big zeroes showed on the clock. That and the fact that coach Scott Statz came from Lodi to Platteville should make the Friday night lights particularly entertaining.
Since I have now finally called a game in which the correct (to readers of The Journal) team won (Potosi’s win over Highland Friday), fans who heard me call Iowa–Grant’s loss to New Glarus/Monticello or Platteville’s loss to River Valley should no longer conclude I’m a jinx.
Relevant side note: The final issue for political letters-to-the-editor to be published prior to the Nov. 6 general election will be Oct. 24. Get your letters in now, with original thoughts, please.