Milton plans forums on city budget issues
MILTON Residents are always welcome to speak out about their concerns at local city council meetings.
Yet, unless a city is dealing with a 20 percent tax hike, a raging controversy over staff or program cuts or maybe a problem with sidewalks or the local ethanol plant, the public seating section at council meetings tends to be pretty empty.
Think cricket chirps, tumbleweed and that one guy in the flannel shirt who whittles his fingernails with a pocketknife.
City of Milton officials want to change that—at least temporarily. As the city plans its 2012 budget, it has decided to host three public forums during regular city council meetings in May, July and September.
City Administrator Jerry Schuetz said the forums will allow the public to get involved in city budget plans at a time when state budget cuts and pending state legislation spell fiscal uncertainty for municipalities statewide.
Normally, city councils have a single public input session while planning the annual city budget. Typically, the sessions are poorly attended by the public.
"At those meetings, I'm usually begging into the microphone, trying to get comment from an empty house," Mayor Tom Chesmore said.
Chesmore said the city is offering more than one chance this year for public input on next year's budget because the city is seeking answers in the face of a bleak funding landscape in the next year.
With anticipated shared state revenue cuts and with new debt tied to $1.9 million in bonds the city plans to float for a new public works facility, the city could face a budget gap of $225,000, according to city estimates.
Milton isn't the only community in the state dealing with legislative plans in Madison that could mean revenue shortfalls and a limited ability to raise local taxes. But the city faces an estimated $110,000 to $165,000 in cuts to state shared revenue, according to city estimates.
Schuetz said the first of the public sessions, which is Tuesday, May 17, will be mostly informational.
"The most important thing first is to educate taxpayers on what certain services cost. When people have that understanding, they might have a greater understanding of what the limitations of their tax dollars are," Schuetz said.
Schuetz said the city will give reports on the impact of the biennial state budget at the later public forums in July and September.
At all three forums, Schuetz said the city will allow time for people to offer comments, suggestions and concerns on city finances.
Schuetz said the city plans to keep record of all public comment to survey how people value and prioritize specific city services.
Alderman David Adams said he hopes people attend the public forums because the city faces weighty decisions in coming months.
The city expects sale and city approval of bond and promissory notes on Wednesday to cover the $3.3 million cost of a building a new public works facility project. The bond sale, officials say, effectively puts the city at the point of no return on borrowing and debt service for the project.
Some city officials and a few candidates for the city council election Tuesday have suggested the city could delay work on the DPW project, especially if its cost could mean potential cuts to staff or city services next year.
Adams said delaying the project would be a gamble because construction costs are projected to increase in coming months.
"We're kind of between a rock and a hard place here," he said.
Chesmore said city projects are just one reason he hopes for a big turnout at each of the three public forums for the city budget.
"There's people out there that I know are smarter than I am when it comes to a budget process," Chesmore said. "If 100 of them came, I'd be willing to sit there until midnight and listen to each of them. If each of them brought just one idea, that'd be wonderful."
If you go
What: The city of Milton is hosting three special public forums on the city budget at regular Milton City Council meetings at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 17; Tuesday, July 19; and Tuesday, Sept. 20. The city council chambers are in City Hall, 430 E. High Street.
Why: The forums are to give citizens information on city finances and on the impact of possible state cuts to shared revenue as the city plans its 2012 budget and to survey the public on how it values and prioritizes city services and projects. Public comment is encouraged at all three sessions.