State budget cuts roll downhill

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Thursday, April 14, 2011
— Gov. Scott Walker said he gave cities the tools to deal with proposed cuts in state shared revenue, but Janesville City Manager Eric Levitt said those tools would help the city make up only about 34 percent of what Janesville would lose in state aid.

And some of the tools can't be used in Janesville.

"We're getting cut a lot more than getting savings," Levitt said.

Walker proposed eliminating most collective bargaining rights of public employees so local governments could save money to make up for cuts in state aid. The bill also requires public employees to pay half their pension contributions.

"The argument that the state is talking about, we get 100 percent savings for 100 percent in reduction," Levitt said.

But because of union contracts now in place, Janesville wouldn't be able to make up even 34 percent of state aid reductions, Levitt said.

The 34 percent includes money the city would realize if unionized public works employees paid half of their pension costs. Because the city quickly signed a contract with its public works employees after Walker's proposal, those workers won't contribute to their pensions for at least two years.

Those pension payments and payments from employees not covered by unions would save the city a total of $502,454. Non-unionized city workers would pay $395,212.

Levitt said at the time he negotiated in good faith with the public works employees union so he was willing to accept the offer on the table at that time.

Unionized police and fire personnel are not included in Walker's proposal, so the city would continue to pay their entire pension costs.

Levitt said the reduction in state shared revenue ignores the stress city budgets were under before 2012.

Janesville's state aid was cut about 19 percentófrom $6.3 million to $5 millionóbetween 2003 and 2011.

Levitt figures another $1.1 million will be cut in 2012.

Those cuts include $328,000 in recycling funds. Levitt recently discovered the city could also lose another $128,000 this year, impacting the 2011 budget.

The total also includes a $72,000 cut for the transit system. For the 2011 budget, the council struggled to maintain service and could do so only because of a retirement.

Walker's proposal to freeze property taxes means the city couldn't raise revenue, which is essentially another cut, Levitt said. The city could raise fees, however.

Overall, Levitt predicts a $2.9 million gap in the 2012 budget.

That's about 7 percent of the $42 million general fund, which is the city's operating expenses and its debt.

The gap presumes the council would use $890,000 from the reserve fund, an amount council members have said they wanted to reduce. Members also want to shift the expense of regular street maintenance from borrowing back to the general fund. That could be especially difficult when faced with proposed state cuts.

To compensate for the cuts, Levitt said he will suggest that the city first look internally and ask workers to identify areas of savings.

He also will not fill some positions when employees quit. For instance, the position of Brad Cantrell, community development director, has not been filled since he left last year. Levitt will look for ways to reorganize departments to save money.

Levitt plans to reach out to community members, possibly based on the community scorecard developed last year. The process should be finished by early fall, when the budget process begins.

"Public input is going to be real important (to prioritize) as to how we address these issues," Levitt said.

Public safety is important to everyone, Levitt said, but do residents want a city with no amenities, such as the bus system, library, recreation or parks?

"These issues are going to be evaluated, but do you really want to eliminate the quality of life?" Levitt said.

The driving question, he said, should be: "What is most important to the city?" rather than "What are we going to cut?"

Levitt said he would not recommend across-the-board cuts but rather would ask individual departments to identify priorities.

Across-the-board cuts would result in 8 percent reductions in all areas. If police and fire were excluded, remaining departments would have to cut more than 20 percent.

"If we don't look at police and fire at all, that's pretty intense," Levitt said.

Council members have resisted cutting police and fire budgets the last two years.

Last updated: 4:58 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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