Township residents approve 33 percent levy increase
“Didn’t we do this last year?” the former town board member asked.
It’s true, the town board found itself for the second year in a row asking for a hefty increase from its residents.
But this year, the board got what it asked for.
Residents approved a 33.4 percent levy increase on a 36-29 vote. The board then approved a $911,000 budget, including payment of a $92,000 loan and interest.
The town needs the increase because of debt and increased fire department costs, Chairman Bryan Meyer said.
The biggest increase by far came in fire expenses, which rose 42 percent to $218,000.
In October, the fire commission approved a budget including a pay increase for firefighters and the final payment for a new tanker. The city and town of Milton each pay 50 percent of fire department costs.
Most of the two hours of debate Tuesday centered on whether the town legally could raise taxes by 33 percent. The state limits levy increases this year to 3.86 percent, but debt service isn’t included in the limit, Meyer said.
Because the town borrowed $92,000 in June, it can raise the levy by at least that much, he said. The town must pay back the loan plus interest in 2008, he said.
But the money won’t actually come out of the levy. The town probably will use its cash reserve to pay off the loan, Meyer said.
Sue Gavigan, a town board member, worried that was illegal under state levy law. If the Wisconsin Department of Revenue decides the town is breaking the rules, it will punish the town by taking away shared revenue, she said.
“I’m not understanding how we can go over the levy that much without a referendum,” she said.
The residents approved the 33.4 percent increase only on the condition that the Department of Revenue confirms it falls within state guidelines. If the department finds the town would break levy limits with the increase, residents stipulated the levy only rise 3.86 percent.
Meredith Helgerson, a spokeswoman with the Department of Revenue, told The Janesville Gazette that the town’s action is legal.
“They do not have to use the levy increase to pay off the debt service,” she said. “How they pay it off is up to them.”
Even with the increase, Meyer believes the town will face another budget crisis next year. Highway maintenance costs have doubled in the last few years, and the town hasn’t been budgeting enough to maintain its roads, he said.
The board discussed ways to cut costs in the coming year, such as putting more road projects up for bid among private companies and creating a new model for dividing fire department costs with the city.
“I expect the town board to continue to make rational and economic decisions,” Meyer said. “We need to continue to squeeze the dollar.”
A look at the 2008 budget for the town of Milton:
Next year: $911,000*
This year: $749,000
Next year: $326,000
This year: $244,000
Note: Percent changes calculated on whole numbers.
*The total budget includes the $92,000 the town must pay back in 2008 plus about $4,000 interest.