Darien asks residents for input on budget challenges

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Catherine W. Idzerda
August 23, 2011
— Everybody expects regular garbage pickup, well-plowed streets, 24-hour police and fire protection, and a good public library.

But nobody wants taxes to go up.

So what are elected officials to do?

Diana Dykstra, Darien village administrator and clerk treasurer, hopes the public will help answer that question.

Last week, village staff posted a survey on its website, asking residents to:

-- Rate the importance of services such as 24-hour police protection, brush pickup, mowing, recycling and the library.

-- List the service that is the most valuable to them.

-- List areas where they'd be willing to accept cuts.

-- Rate the value of the village newsletter.

-- Tell elected officials how they prefer their fire protection and emergency services delivered.

-- Share what they think are the biggest problems facing the village and how they might be solved.

"We've not done this before," Dykstra said. "This was an opportunity to engage some of our residents."

The city of Janesville also is asking its residents to fill out a budget survey. The survey allows users to see how their choices affect the city's projected $500,000 deficit.

Darien included information about the survey in its latest utility bill. People who don't have Internet access can use the computers at the public library for free. In addition, paper copies of the survey will be available at Village Hall.

The village has its first round of budget talks Sept. 14, when the village finance committee gets a first look at departmental requests, Dykstra said.

Last year, the village passed a $1.4 million budget. This year, changes in state aid will result in a $25,000 loss. Some of that money already has been made up with employee contributions to benefits, Dykstra said.

Still, given the economy, loss of state aids, the cost of fuel and a variety of other factors, building a balanced budget will be a challenge.

Dykstra hopes the survey will help elected officials make decisions.

Village Trustee Phil Putman is on the finance committee and already knows what he wants.

"My goal is to pass a budget that doesn't raise taxes," Putman said.

Dykstra said that all budget requests would be subject to "serious scrutiny." It's important for municipalities not to put off needed budget cuts, she said.

"All the municipalities are in the same boat," Dykstra said. "If we don't address the problem, the boat is going to sink."

Take the survey

The village of Darien is asking its residents for their opinions on services such as trash collection, police and fire services, and snow plowing.

Residents are encouraged to share their opinions online at darienwi.us. Residents also can fill out a paper copy of the survey at the village offices, 20 N. Wisconsin St., Darien.

For more information, contact the village at (262) 882-5055.

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