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New Richmond City Council: Citizens have a say

Following a 15-minute public hearing Monday night, members of the New Richmond City Council unanimously approved the 2018 budget worth $6,039,740 including a levy of $5,527,208 up 7.94 percent or $406,570 from 2017. For the average homeowner, that translates into $8.92 per $1,000 of assessed home value. For a home valued at $150,000, taxes will increase by $82.33 annually to $1,337.92. More detailed information about the budget can be found on the City's web site at

Both City Administrator Mike Darrow and City Finance Director Rae Ann Ailts expressed their gratitude to staff as well as the hundreds of citizens for their hands-on participation in the budget process this year.

"Utilizing tax dollars for the public good must be evaluated not just by local officials, but by the taxpayers themselves. I am extremely grateful of the leadership displayed by our Finance Director Rae Ann Ailts, as well as our leadership team in developing this budget and meeting with folks throughout this process. Mayor Fred and the entire City Council, when considering this budget, expressed the need for greater feedback and transparency in this process. Their challenge to us was to take these meetings outside of City Hall and meet with the community in their own places of business. We hope to build on this process as we continue to build a better budget," said Darrow via a news release.

Beginning in October, city staff made budget presentations to 16 community organizations and facilities.

"The information that was received during this process was critical in assisting staff to tell the story of building this budget," said Ailts via a news release.

Citizen participation lead directly to the inclusion of a Capital Savings Levy of $100,000 in the 2018 budget.

"Residents resoundingly supported paying for capital improvement projects using a cash basis funding mechanism as opposed to always having to borrow; 36 percent supported a capital savings mechanism of $100,000," said Ailts.

The new savings mechanism allows the City to levy for funds in advance of identifying and allocating funds for a specific capital project eliminating the need to borrow for a project and giving the city a two-to-five-year window to identify a worthy project. Typically, a capital levy is exercised to raise funds for a specific project with a predetermined expenditure date.

In other business, Darrow familiarized council members with their new Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) binders. Members will be expected to review the existing and proposed capital projects over the next 60 days and score each project on a scale of 1-5 using the themes previously identified including public private partnerships, health, safety, general welfare, return on investment, and past, present, and future. Darrow's department will tabulate the scorecards to determine the council's priorities and present their findings at the February or March general council meeting. At that time community input will also be solicited. Darrow projects the whole process to take roughly six months.

"If you loved the budget process, you'll love this one. Look for information to be posted as we go through this beginning in January and hopefully concluding sometime in June or July," said Darrow.

Management Analyst Noah Wiedenfeld reported that CESA 10 has completed an energy audit of all city buildings and facilities. A plan to reduce the City's energy costs based on the information revealed in the audit is in final review. The plan identifies 25 projects that together could save the City up to $4,100 a year in energy costs. Projects range from the installation of new water heaters to insulating water pipes and adding weather stripping to existing doors.

Provided the plan is approved, the City would be eligible to apply for an implementation grant worth up to $25,000.

Other business

• Wiedenfeld informed council members that the City has an Emerald Ash Borer Plan awaiting DNR review. The City's most recent tree inventory identified 600 Ash trees on streets and boulevards with more located along trails and in park forests. The long-term plan calls for a phased removal of a large portion of those trees over the next five years to be replaced with a variety of other species. Successful implementation will require the cooperation of owners of adjacent residential property also containing Ash trees.

• The City continues to work on the insurance claim that resulted from last spring's damaging hailstorm. The City is evaluating the best way to employ the funds allocated as a result of the claim. Actual repair work is now scheduled to begin in 2018.

• Council members congratulated Police Chief Craig Yehlik on his nomination for Citizen of the Year.