City will reduce its spending slightly in 2013Hudson will reduce its operational spending in 2013 by about $41,000 compared to this year under the budget proposed by the City Council’s Finance Committee.
By: Randy Hanson, Hudson Star-Observer
Hudson will reduce its operational spending in 2013 by about $41,000 compared to this year under the budget proposed by the City Council’s Finance Committee.
The City Council will hold a public hearing on the $7.74 million budget and consider it for approval on Nov. 19.
City officials were constrained in drafting next year’s budget by a state law that limits tax levy increases to the amount of new construction. Hudson’s levy increase for 2013 is capped at about $43,000.
The Finance Committee finalized the budget recommendation at an Oct. 15 meeting. The committee is chaired by Mayor Alan Burchill and includes alderpersons Rich Vanselow, Lori Bernard and Randy Morrissette II.
City Administrator Devin Willi noted that the city will receive $19,000 less in state transportation aid next year ($574,000), and that state shared revenue will remain flat ($168,000).
State transportation aid and shared revenue are down significantly from in the past, Willi said. The 2013 transportation aid is $103,000 less than the city received in 2011. Shared revenue has dropped $32,000 in two years.
Mayor Burchill noted that River Falls gets $2 million a year in shared revenue from the state. Shared revenue is distributed based a municipality’s property value in comparison to its population.
Willi said the mill rate for 2013 operations will rise even though there is a minimal increase in the tax levy because the city’s assessed valuation has dropped.
The 2012 valuation is $1.42 billion, down roughly $30 million, or 2 percent, from 2011.
The proposed mill rate for 2013 operations is $4.60 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The rate for the 2012 budget was $4.50 per $1,000.
The proposed tax levy for 2013 is roughly $6.53 million, a $19,986 increase from 2012.
Public Works budget
Public Works and Parks Director Tom Zeuli, Police Chief Marty Jensen and Fire Chief Jim Frye appeared at the Finance Committee meeting to answer questions about their departments’ spending.
Public Works spending will drop $6,600 to $1.57 million next year under the budget proposal. Spending on parks will remain constant at about $368,600.
Burchill asked Zeuli why the cost of operating the city’s library and police building was reduced by $24,000.
Zeuli said the building expenses were estimated the first two years the city owned it, but now there’s a more accurate track record. He said electrical bills, in particular, were lower than expected.
The mayor also inquired about the progress of switching to LED streetlights.
Zeuli said he has been moving forward cautiously. Companies make many claims about lower electrical use, he said, but it takes investigation to get the correct lights to realize the savings.
He said it was up to the City Council to decide how much to spend on converting to LED lights.
“I think there is a big savings,” he said. “It depends on how much we want to invest.”
Jensen talked about the steps the police department will take to reduce its expenditures to $2.81 million next year, a reduction of a little over $14,000 from this year’s spending.
The police chief previously had presented four options for reducing spending, and one to allow funding to increase to prevent any personnel cuts.
The committee went along with Jensen’s second choice, to leave the captain’s position vacant and promote the department’s two investigators to sergeant.
Jensen had said that option would allow him to maintain a staff of five supervisors, and give him flexibility in getting extra officers on the street when needed. The sergeant detectives would be able to respond to incidents without having to call a supervisor, too, he said.
Leaving open the position vacated in September by former Police Lt. Eric Atkinson will allow the police department to meet increased costs for health insurance, wages and vehicle fuel. Atkinson is now chief of the Menomonie Police Department.
It was reported that a 1 percent increase in wages and salaries for all city employees has been recommended for 2013.
The Finance Committee decided to include money for two new squad cars in the 2013 budget, up from the one vehicle purchased in 2012.
Jensen reported that the department’s new vehicles are in almost constant use, and will need replacement sooner because of it.
“The 2008, 2009 cars have really taken a beating,” he said. “We’re putting a lot more miles on them than in the past.”
Jensen said 40,000 miles a year are being racked up on squad cars.
The police department has a total of 15 vehicles, he reported. They include nine patrol squads, a K-9 squad and five unmarked cars.
The department averages three to five cars on the street per shift, he said.
Bill for vehicle fires and false alarms?
During the review of the fire department’s budget, Alderperson Bernard raised the question of billing for department responses to vehicle fires and false alarms.
Bernard noted that the town of Hudson charges for putting out vehicle fires, and that the town of Troy bills property owners for all types of fire calls.
Patients are billed for ambulance service, too, she noted, and wanted to know why the same couldn’t be done for fire calls.
“I’m advocating strongly that we do some billing for fire (calls),” she said.
Fire Chief Jim Frye cautioned that homeowners might delay reporting a fire if they know they will be charged for the call.
Alderperson Mary Yacoub, who was in the audience, wanted to know how many false alarms the department gets. She also asked whether homeowners insurance would cover the bills if owners are charged for fire calls.
Frye said “smells and bells” – firefighter lingo for suspicious odors and fire alarms – account for 90 percent of fire calls.
He said it’s annoying to be called out at 3 o’clock in the morning because a home or building owner hasn’t changed the battery in a carbon dioxide alarm.
Fifteen or 16 volunteer firefighters respond to the typical false alarm, Frye said, and sometimes two engines are started to the scene. Each fire call costs the department a minimum of $500, he said. The department is on pace to respond to 400 calls in 2012.
Alderpersons Morrissette and Vanselow expressed caution about billing for structure fires, but indicated they are willing to consider charging for vehicle fires and false alarms.
Morrissette asked Frye about budgeting money for furniture in an office set up in the Public Safety Building that Morrissette said wasn’t approved by the City Council. He said Frye’s office should probably be in the lower level of City Hall, where St. Croix EMS has its offices.
Frye said the Public Safety Building office was already there, but formerly used by St. Croix EMS. He said it “wouldn’t flow well” for him to have his office across the street from where the fire station is.
At the close of the discussion on the city’s share of the fire department budget, Frye reminded the committee that the community is “getting a great bargain” by having a volunteer department.
“What you don’t see in the budget is a ton of work that these people do that they don’t get paid for,” the fire chief said.
Burchill and other committee members quickly agreed.
The mayor recommended that the city revisit an offer from its financial advisor, Ehlers & Associates, to draw up a five-year financial plan for the city.
The firm said it would draft the plan for $5,000 back in 2008, Burchill reported, but the city didn’t follow up on the offer.
The plan would have laid out financing for a new public safety building, more downtown parking and some major street reconstruction projects.
“Let’s put a plan together so we know where we’re going to go,” Burchill said.
Vine, Wisconsin and St. Croix streets were mentioned as in need of major repairs.