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New Richmond area officials discuss budget cuts

About 100 people gathered at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College on March 22 to hear various city and county officials discuss the possible implications of Gov. Scott Walker's budget proposals.

The panel consisted of Morrie Veilleux, administrator of New Richmond School District; Dennis Horner, administrator of the City of New Richmond; Fred Horne, mayor of the City of New Richmond; and Fred Johnson, administrator of St. Croix County's Health and Human Services Department.

New Richmond School District

The school district will see a significant reduction in its revenue streams -- state aid and the amount the district is able to levy, Veilleux said.

Walker's proposal reduces state aid by 8.4 percent statewide. In New Richmond, officials expect the reduction to be closer to 18 percent, or $1.6 million, Veilleux said.

In addition to the state aid reduction, the revenue limits for the district will also be reduced $528 per student, or about 5.5 percent, Veilleux said. In other words, the district will not be allowed to increase the tax levy to make up the difference.

While that all might sound great to the district's taxpayers, it puts the district in a difficult position, he said.

"We can't raise taxes to make up for that loss in state equalization aid," he said.

Instead, the district will have to find the money within its current budget and that means reducing expenditures, he said.

In preparation for the anticipated budget reductions, the school board approved 204 layoff notices to its teachers a few weeks ago. The move was a way to keep as many options on the table as possible until the governor's budget proposal was announced.

The district has until April 25 to issue formal non-renewal notices, but it's unlikely that any will be issued, Veilleux said.

"I'm confident we won't be recommending any lay offs," he said.

A few new developments, along with Walker's budget repair bill, will give the district a few tools to help make up for the revenue cuts, he said.

• A new bus contract, which was approved at the school board's March 21 meeting, wil1 save the district about $245,000 annually.

• An agreement with teachers that increases the deductibles and their contribution to health insurance will also help.

• The requirement that all employees on the Wisconsin Retirement System contribute 5.8 percent toward their retirement/pensions will also save the district about $800,000, he said.

• The New Richmond School Board approved 15 teacher retirements at its Monday meeting. Most of those retirements are elementary teachers and most of those positions will be filled, Veilleux said. It is possible that three or four will not be filled.

"I'm pretty optimistic that we, as a district, will continue to be able to serve kids and keep class sizes reasonable," he said.

City of New Richmond

Horner said the city isn't up in arms over the governor's proposed budget. While highway aid and recycling funds will be reduced, the city should still come out ahead in the budget, he said.

In preparation of budget cuts and as a way to reduce the city's debt service, city officials have recently been re-evaluating open city positions and determining whether it's necessary to fill those positions, he said.

For example, when a streets department position was vacated last year, officials determined that the street department could get by without filling that position, he said.

Currently the city is undergoing that same evaluation of an open police officer position, said Mayor Horne.

"As positions open up, we take full, long looks at those positions," he said.

In the case of recycling, Horner said just because funds are cut doesn't mean that recycling will no longer be offered.

The city could, he said, stipulate that garbage contractors working within the city also offer recycling to residents.

Horner said the budget cuts should not be taken lightly.

"The cuts in revenue are huge for us," he said. "But the decisions the council has made so far have been good and I think we'll be OK."

Horne agreed.

"The key is going to be conversing and working with employees and working with the community about what services we want to pay for," he said.

Health and Human Services

It's hard to say just how the budget proposals will affect Health and Human Services because there are so many services offered within the department and every aspect is still unclear, said Johnson.

Some of Johnson's concerns include the proposed 10 percent reduction in funding for youth aid, which is a service that helps families and youth with special needs by developing partnerships and connections that foster a level of independence within families.

There's also a proposed elimination of retroactive eligibility for the economic support division, which helps families in need become stable and self-sufficient. This program includes medical assistance, FoodShare, the child care subsidy program and BadgerCare Plus.

Another concern is the proposed changes to Medicaid's eligibility policy and how those changes will be implemented, he said.

"There will be some areas we'll need to take a look at and make some hard choices," he said.