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Five ways to deal with lower levy limit

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Ann Fiore
Wednesday, October 31, 2007

This Halloween, Janesville residents probably won’t notice anything scary about the city’s 2008 budget.

The proposed spending plan continues service levels, with a little tightening here and there. A public hearing on the budget is set for Monday, Nov. 12. If the budget is approved, the average taxpayer will pay $17.70 more in city taxes next year.

But a monster lurks in the 2009 budget, City Manager Steve Sheiffer has warned the city council.

The state’s tax levy limit falls from 3.86 percent next year to 2 percent in 2009, which will leave the city $700,000 to $1 million short, Sheiffer said.

Here are five ways the city plans to face the budget squeeze:

1. Increase efficiency

City departments must find new ways to save cash without affecting service. For 2008, the police department decided to pay for the annual costs of a K-9 unit using money earmarked for a records supervisor job. The fire department said it’s saving on overtime in 2008 by hiring two new firefighter/paramedics.

In the future, Sheiffer said he will look to job attrition and turnover as ways to pinch pennies.

2. Borrow to cover operating costs

The price of asphalt jumped 15 percent between 2006 and 2007. The city will respond by resurfacing fewer streets. But public works officials couldn’t fit an extra $200,000 for higher asphalt costs into their budget, so the city will borrow the money. The levy limit doesn’t apply to borrowing.

Future budgets might rely more on borrowing to pay operating costs, Sheiffer said.

3. Transfer costs to other budgets

The 2008 general fund budget moves the fall leaf collection to the stormwater utility, which operates on user fees. The move makes sense, city officials say, because the collection keeps the stormwater system operating properly. But it also saves the general fund budget $132,270 next year.

That will mean higher stormwater fees for property owners. The average residential customer likely will pay $1.82 more per quarter for stormwater.

4. Increase fees

The city makes money by collecting fees for programs and services. Fees old and new will be on the table during budget talks, Sheiffer said.

Besides the higher stormwater utility fee, the 2008 budget also asks property owners to pay $2 more per quarter for the water utility and $5.59 more per quarter for the wastewater utility.

5. Talk about 2009 budget cuts early

Instead of waiting until next fall, Sheiffer wants to start budget discussions before spring. That way, he said, he can give the council options on cuts. Public hearings also will be scheduled.

“Because of the magnitude of the changes, we can’t do this in the budget process,” Sheiffer said in an interview. “It should make for an interesting spring.”

Last updated: 10:09 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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