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Residents sound off on city budget at Milton forum

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
May 18, 2011
— Milton residents had the first of three opportunities to sound off on the city’s budget at a public session Tuesday as the city considers a possible $278,000 budget gap next year.

About 20 people turned out for the forum and a few spoke, including one who urged the city to develop a five-year plan on spending and another who wanted to know more about the tax impact residents could see as the city forms its budget.


The forum was intended to give an update on the city’s financial condition and its spending priorities. It also allowed the public to share ideas as the city crafts its 2012 budget.


City Administrator Jerry Schuetz presented details on a possible $278,000 budget gap the city could face, highlighting $122,000 in new city debt linked to plans for a new public works facility and other possible city projects, which he said could include improvements to the city’s current fire department building.


Schuetz also highlighted $115,000 in possible cuts to state revenues next year.


He detailed $216,000 in cuts the city itself is considering, noting that it’s looking at cuts to post employment benefits and a possible change in health insurance carriers for city employees. Schuetz said that by July each city department would be submitting cuts of five or 10 percent.


In projections Tuesday, Schuetz noted the city’s possible budget gap was calculated assuming a zero percent tax levy increase next year.


Resident Herb Stinski, who worked last fall as a budget consultant for the city of Milton, spoke Tuesday. He suggested that residents might better understand the city’s potential budget gap if the city detailed, hypothetically, what kind of tax hike it would take to cover it.


“Is it a five percent increase in my taxes? Is it 10 percent? Is it 20 percent?” Stinski said.


He said he’d like to see city figures showing what sort of dent a small tax increase would make in the projected budget gap, and what the increase would mean for the average taxpayer.


“I think we all realize that costs keep going up just like our household budgets. I’m not necessarily averse to a one, two, three or four percent tax increase,” Stinski said.


Stinski also said that that as long as each city department plans to submit its own cuts for next year, they could consider coming up with cuts for this year too.


“We still have more than 50 percent of the year left,” Stinski said.


Resident Fred Hookham, a former member of the city council who spoke Tuesday, said he would like to see the city council form a five-year plan that would show, among other things, how much the city could expand before its water utilities became inadequate.


“You need a steady improvement in capital so that you’re replacing at a known level,” he said.


Hookham said he was glad for the chance to speak early in the budget process, especially given political and financial uncertainty at the state level.


“In this environment, when you’ve got the governor who’s helping us along making some big decisions, priority-setting is all the more important,” he said.


Hookham said he was impressed by how many people came to the forum.


“I think we’re headed in the right direction. I think a number of citizens understand that we’re looking at some significant changes. If we start working on this a little earlier and a little more together, it can’t help but work better when you’ve got this size of changes coming at you.”


Two more public forums on Milton’s budget will held:


-- Tuesday, July 19, when more should be known about state funding


-- Tuesday, Sept. 20, when the city council will begin considering its 2012 budget.



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