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City Council approves 2.5% levy increase for 2015

New Richmond City Administrator Mike Darrow presents the proposed 2015 city budget to members of the City Council on Monday, Dec. 9. (Photo by Micheal Foley)1 / 2
New Richmond resident Mark Jackelen was the only resident to speak against the city’s budget with a proposed 2.5 percent levy increase at the Dec. 9 City Council meeting. (Photo by Micheal Foley)2 / 2

The City of New Richmond is asking for a bit more of your money in 2015.

The New Richmond City Council approved a 2.5 percent levy increase to fund government operations, pay down debt, and create a contingency fund and a capital replacement fund.

The city is budgeting for just under $5.91 million in expenditures in 2015, and it will levy for $4.55 million of that amount. The city’s total levy is broken into a $2.92 million operating levy, a $1.53 million debt service levy and a new $96,350 capital replacement levy. The operating levy is up 0.64 percent over 2014, the debt levy is down 0.26 percent from last year, and the newly created capital replacement levy brings the city’s total levy to just over $4.55 million — an increase of 2.5 percent from a year ago.

Though no one from the community chose to speak during the budget hearing portion of the agenda, resident Mark Jackelen provided a scathing criticism of the council’s plan to raise taxes during the public comment period at the outset of the meeting.

“We’re going into another spending cycle the way it looks,” Jackelen said.

Jackelen then dubbed the 2015 budget as “the Zajkowski-Kittel Bill” after Aldermen Jim Zajkowski and Craig Kittel, who moved and seconded a motion to move forward with the 2.5 percent increase at the council’s Nov. 17 meeting. He also told the council that it should have tried harder to keep from raising the levy knowing that the city would be borrowing millions soon for capital projects.

“I don’t think that’s asking a lot,” Jackelen said. “If you want to do a walkaround, I’ll be more than happy to. I can find some slop in the budget.”

While presenting the budget proposal to council, City Administrator Mike Darrow pointed to four key areas to explain the 2.5 percent levy increase: starting a contingency fund, starting a capital replacement levy, street maintenance projects and maintaining or improving services.

“This year, we’re changing a little bit of our focus,” Darrow said. “I think what Mark Jackelen had mentioned with regard to the city’s debt is a fair assessment. So, one of the things we are looking at with the council and staff is to start utilizing cash and also looking at going into some of our unfunded liabilities as well. That’s the approach that we’re taking. It’s a lot easier of an investment for the community to utilize cash savings than it is to continue to borrow.That’s the shift.”

He explained that having the funds saved ahead of time would help the city not pay interest fees when purchasing items such as vehicles. The contingency fund — accounting for about $29,000 of the budget — will be money set aside for unfunded liabilities and emergencies.

Alderperson Jane Hansen said the levy increase created “heartburn for all of us,” but that it was necessary to invest in city streets this year.

“We have to do this to keep our city the City Beautiful,” Hansen said.

Jokingly embracing Jackelen’s renaming of the 2015 budget, Zajkowski said, “As the Zajkowski-Kittel budget, I make a motion to pass the budget.”

Kittel followed suit by seconding the motion, and it was approved on a 6-0 vote.

The path to approving the 2015 budget began about six months ago when Darrow and Finance Director Nancy Petersen began holding meetings with city staff that were open to the public.

“We began the process, as we often do, in the early summer,” Darrow told the council. “We invited community members to review the budget and meet with staff every Wednesday. We made office time between 3 and 4:30 p.m. for anybody in the community who wanted to know how we build the budget and what goes into it. We had individual meetings with department heads. There were special council work sessions. This year the council toured all of the departments to look at not only the 2015 budget process, but the five-year capital budget plans within each department.”

With the budget now approved, the city and county will work together to prepare final tax bills, and New Richmond residents could see them in their mailboxes within a few days.

City staff is now working on creating the 2015 Budget Book, which will provide a more detailed view of how various city departments plan to spend their funds in the coming year. The 2015 Budget Book will soon be available on the city’s website at newrichmondwi.gov.

Micheal Foley
Micheal Foley worked at RiverTown Multimedia from July 2013 to June 2015 as editor at the New Richmond News. 
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