At their work session Monday night, New Richmond City Council members spent the majority of the evening discussing items related to the 2018 proposed budget and capital Improvement plan.
Having already heard from Fire Department Chief Jim VanderWyst at their last work session in September, council members heard from remaining department heads who highlighted key items in each of their proposed budgets and answered questions.
Priority items for several departments focused on hiring more personnel.
Airport Manager Mike Demulling reported airport plans call for hiring one additional part-time position to start in the winter of 2018-2019 with potentially a full-time position to start in 2019. He also noted there are currently three new hangars under construction at the airport. The airport is home to 202 aircraft, making it one of the most populated in the state.
"We've never been busier and occupancy has never been higher. For based airplanes, we're number 2 in the state behind only Waukesha," said Demulling.
Police Department Chief Craig Yehlik reported his department is looking to add one full-time position to start in April 2018. He addressed a number of questions regarding department overtime explaining some of his efforts to manage overtime but noted the nature of the job will always necessitate overtime. A primary issue contributing to high overtime currently is the lack of qualified local mental health facilities, which frequently requires officers to deliver clients long distance to the Winnebago health facility. The council asked the Chief to try to provide a more realistic overtime estimate for the new budget going forward.
Library Director Kim Hennings estimated that her department would be looking to hire two new full-time positions over the next two to five years. Those positions could initially be responsible for duties arising from the construction of the new library with those duties transitioning once the library is established.
Other topics discussed included finding a way to assign cost specific information to special events like parades and festivals and finding additional ways to inform local downtown businesses of funds available through Historic Preservation for downtown development. Interested businesses should contact City Management Analyst Noah Wiedenfeld at 715-246-4268 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
City Finance Director Rae Ann Ailts initiated discussion about adopting new policy to set aside funds to offset the city's reliance on borrowing for capital improvement projects.
Council members were asked to consider adding policy which would raise the tax levy proportional to the amount of money the city planned to designate as set aside funds. For example, the 2018 levy is estimated to be around 5.9 percent. To set aside $50,000, the levy would increase to 6.93 percent, $100,000 - 7.7 percent and $150,000 - 8.93 percent. Roughly estimated, for a typical home in New Richmond, that could cost the homeowner from $8 - $10 a month more in taxes.
Council members got their first look at proposed capital improvement projects by department. Proposed projects as they stand, total more than $33 million scheduled to be addressed over the next four years. Combined with school district projections, the total comes close to $50 million. The immediate goal is to prioritize projects for the next two years.
City Administrator Mike Darrow explained seven themes staff and council members will be applying to proposed capital improvement projects to help prioritize projects and determine their compatibility with city plans and goals.
"What we'll do is, as you're going through these themes, we can say, 'Hey, Project A meets all of them, Project B meets four of them.' That's how we're ranking these. With $33 million in new projects, and that number is growing, let's use these themes to help us help you to prioritize those projects," explained Darrow.
Those seven themes are: Health, Safety and General Welfare; Preserving the Past; Engaging the Present; Ensuring the Future; Economic Development; Fiscal Responsibility; and Public & Private Partnerships.
After a brief discussion, council members requested that Ailts and Darrow get back together with staff to further prioritize projects using a red, green, yellow ranking system. They further requested that the funding status of a specific project be noted identifying potential funding sources for that project. The updated information is to be circulated to council members as soon as it is available.
Darrow also noted that department representatives will begin meeting with local civic organizations and other groups throughout the community in October to present the proposed budget and solicit feedback and answer questions from community members. He encouraged residents to watch the city web site, as well as media outlets like the News for upcoming dates and locations for public budget discussions.