Meeting Watch RTSA

The New Richmond City Council held its monthly work session Monday night, September 27. 

Here is what you need to know:

In conjunction with the New Richmond School District, the City issued a joint press release following their closed session meeting Monday night to discuss progress on the construction of a new library.
The statement confirms that they are looking to form a public-private partnership in order to share the financial challenge and also to take advantage of the opportunity to build a multi-purpose solution that “could utilize the strengths, expertise, efficiencies and resources of other parties and sectors to create facilities that far exceed what any one partner could achieve independently.”
Having conducted a number of interviews with potential design and development firms over the summer, it appears they are not yet ready to make that decision, instead confirming they will continue to “ listen and work closely with local stakeholders to assess and understand community needs and identify viable partners and/or uses that would be compatible with a library, assist with the financial feasibility of constructing a library, reflect the character of the nearby neighborhood and serve the needs of all residents in the School District of New Richmond.”

1. Council continues 2022 budget discussion, adds additional patrol officer 

Council members continued their discussion of the 2022 budget by reviewing a second draft which incorporated changes as a result of discussion between council members and City staff following their Sept. 9 meeting. 

Those changes resulted in a decrease of more than $43,000 from the initial draft and included significant savings due to a reduction in the projected health insurance premium renewal aided by employees leaving the plan, a reduction in Sports Center, Hatfield Park and Citizen Field expenditures due to grants, $20,000, and cost saving opportunities in the Fire Department, $16,000.    

Those savings were offset primarily by the addition of a patrol officer to the Police Department at an annual cost of $82,000.

“Through my conversations with the Council there has certainly been a high priority placed on public safety and the need for an additional patrol officer and what that would look like in the 2022 budget,” explained Rae Ann Ailts Asst. City Administrator and Finance Director.

In light of the modest cost to add an additional police officer, Alderman Montello emphasized the importance of balancing fiscal responsibility with public safety.    

“It’s super important that folks understand that we are strengthening the presence of our police department in the community for public safety needs,” said Montello. 

Overall, the budget discussions reduced the second draft budget by $46,772 resulting in an increase to the levy from 2021 to 2022 of 2.9%. 

Budget discussions will continue aimed at publishing a final draft following the Council’s regular meeting on Oct. 11 to be followed by a public hearing at the regular Council meeting on Nov. 8.

2. City employees to pay more for healthcare

JA Counter Principal Linda Skoglund summarized the process her agency undertook with City staff to determine the best healthcare insurance plan to serve employee needs.  

“Overall, the City’s seen relatively flat increases since 2015,” she said. “But when we look at how that relates to the plan itself, the plan design has not stayed the same. The plan design has changed over time and the premium contributions of the employees have changed over time. While the City has seen a relatively flat change year over year, in its contributions, the member employees have not.”

Skoglund confirmed that public employees are experiencing much the same dilemma private sector employees and employers are experiencing, paying more for healthcare to receive at best the same or less in benefits. 

After investigating a number of alternative options, Skoglund was able to negotiate with Medica on the City’s behalf and reduce the 54% increase to renew the policy to a 25% increase.    

Council members approved Skoglund’s recommendation to renew the City’s policy with Medica with no changes to the plan design. The policy will continue to offer two plan options, a traditional option with copays for prescription drugs and an HSA qualified high deductible option.

Skoglunds estimated the increased financial impact to the City at 18% or $142,000 and a 25% premium increase for employees. 

Tom Lindfors is a western Wisconsin freelance journalist and former Star-Observer reporter. Contact him at tom@lindforsphoto.com.

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