City budget is creeping up
During Tuesday's study session, Councilman Russ Steeber led the charge and urged the council not to reduce police officers.
The council added $27,000 back in the budget to add a police officer mid-year. And it added $50,000 for snow removal and $1,000 so the Traxler Warming House can be rented an additional two months a year.
And, at a prior session, it added $15,000 for an anti-poverty program.
Council member George Brunner said then that every additional $30,000 adds about $1 to the tax bill on the average home assessed at $113,000.
The police department cut personnel when it lost a grant from the state, Police Chief Dave Moore told council members Tuesday.
"(State officials) told us they had good news and bad new for us. The good news was that our crime rate was down … But because our crime rate is down, we'd lost a state crime beat grant of almost $140,000."
The proposed budget would have hired one of those officers back in July, meaning an overall cut of 1½ positions in 2010.
"In doing so, we have the lowest number of officers that we've had in over a decade," Moore said. "All of this while the demands on the police are increasing."
The 2010 budget as proposed included 103 sworn officers.
But Steeber, a captain with the Rock County Sheriff's Department, said police are a core function that shouldn't be reduced because it means a cutback in response time, which affects safety.
Moore said response time would be impacted, but not for emergency calls. Available time for traffic enforcement and problem-solving in the field would be reduced.
The salary of a police officer including benefits is about $52,500, or a couple of dollars on the average tax bill.
The council opted to put both officers in the budget starting in July for an additional cost of $27,000.
"We need to keep those positions," council President Bill Truman said. He said the department has made great strides in inner city neighborhoods.
"I think in the months to come, when people start losing their benefits and losing their weekly unemployment, we may see a rise in domestic violence calls," he said. "I think every officer we have out there is going to be utilized."
"We're raising taxes here," said Tom McDonald, the only council member to speak against putting the position back in.
"You can't put a dollar amount on public safety," Steeber said.
The council also considered a snow removal policy for the second time.
City Manager Eric Levitt had initially recommended that plows be dispatched when 3 inches accumulated, and he deleted $50,000 from the snow removal budget. He said he was looking for a policy so residents could understand when the city would plow, but most council members were uncomfortable with a hard-and-fast rule.
Levitt recommended Tuesday that the council put the $50,000 and a bit of discretionary funds back in.
Between November and February, staff would lean more toward plowing at the 2-inch level because weather is typically more severe. In March through October, they would lean more toward the 3-inch standard, when snow melts more quickly.
Levitt estimated this new policy would mean at least the same level of service or possibly higher.
Council members approved of the new policy, although Yuri Rashkin said it is essentially the same as the old, which indicated a plowing range of between 2 to 3 inches.
"We're right where we started," he said.
Levitt said the policy might make plowing decisions easier for the public to understand.
John Whitcomb, operations director, reminded the council that the city could still experience accumulations and freezes that could lead to icy or packed streets, despite any new policy.
"These things might still happen," Whitcomb said. "Snow happens."