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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Propose Peshtigo City Tax Equal To Last Year

Issue Date: October 25, 2018

Peshtigo City Council's Finance Committee and other city officials spent a long hard morning on Monday, Oct. 22 paring a final $37,000 from the 19-page proposed expenditures budget to the $566,970 allowed by state levy limits. As proposed, the total city tax rate will again be about .0049.

The group started work shortly after 8:30 a.m. and by 12:30 p.m. were able to recommend a balanced budget for approval by the full Council following the budget hearing on Thursday, Nov 15. They also approved a motion to borrow enough for capital expenditure items to keep the proposed city property tax rate for this year approximately the same as last year and avoid the sharp fluctuations that are hard on taxpayers.

If there were no borrowing this year for capital expenses the tax rate could have dropped to about .00355, "but then when we need to borrow, it would hurt," Anita Morois commented. She noted in the not too distant future they will need to spend on another fire truck, and there was mention that the air conditioning system in the municipal building is showing its age.

The committee decided some of the equipment purchases and/or projects that had been on the capital improvement list for future years should be moved up to keep the tax rate level and keep the city's UDAG funds for local economic development use.

Present for the meeting were Finance Committee members Mike Behnke, Jillian Schutte and Brigitte Schmidt, chair; Mayor Cathi Malke, Clerk/Treasurer Tammy Kasal, Deputy Clerk/Treasurer Anita Morois, Police Chief Richard Badgley, Parks and Recreation Director David Zahn, and Public Works Director George Cowell.

The meeting began with a quick review of Revolving Loan Fund and UDAG accounts. Schmidt said they are still working on the Faucett Forest Products account. They had received the check from the Sheriff's Sale of that property on Wednesday, Sept. 12, but the report still showed a balance of $41,111.70 on a UDAG loan approved for the firm in July of 2015. All other loans in both accounts were current except that the October payment had not yet been received from Precision Ice Blast.

The RLF has outstanding loans of $239,948 and a cash balance of $314,734. There is a total of $1,976,652 out on UDAG loans, of which $625,000 is owed by the city's sewer utility. In addition, the UDAG account shows $1,100,000 in certificates of deposit and a cash balance of $474,826.

A portion of the UDAG/RLF money will be borrowed by the city to pay for some extra capital outlay items in 2019. Due to some pending changes in the state/federal CDBG program that helped establish the RLF, this borrowing and repayment will help retain the funds for future economic development projects in the city. Morois explained the outstanding CDBG loans must be repaid to the state before the end of 2019 or it will be lost, but if repaid so they can close out the federal portion of the program, the state will return the funds to the city without the federal strings attached.

At the start of the budget discussions, Malke noted the original proposed budget had exceeded the levy limits by $60,932. She, Morois and Kasal had found places to make adjustments in either income or expenditures that brought the operating levy shortfall down to the $37,046 that the committee still had to trim.

Schmidt questioned proposed changes in personnel budget amounts. Malke suggested holding off because she wanted to look into making the salaried Parks and Recreation Director post into two positions instead of one, which she said could save the city a considerable amount of money.

There currently are two and a half full time positions in the city's clerk/treasurer's office. Morois is assigned there and to the Water and Sewer Departments, and portions of her salary are paid through them, as are parts of the salary for the half time person, Tracy Jandt. That salary is paid 20 percent each by Parks and Rec, Police, Water, Sewer and the Clerk's office.

Behnke, who serves on the Personnel Committee, said they had voted to make the half time post full time this year, and the proposed budget reflected that.

"That concept has not been presented to Water and Sewer," Cowell objected. He said that change would impact the utility budgets and the Water and Sewer Utility Board had not included provisions for that added expense. "There's a lot more to it," he declared.

Schmidt also was not in favor of going to the full time position. "A lot of thought went into our decision to make it part time," she said.

Malke explained the city used to have three full time people in the clerk's office, and expressed belief that the current work load is too much. She said she sees Kasal and Morois regularly taking work home with them to get it finished. Morois said she only does that sometimes when she takes minutes. She said when the decision was made in 2014 to cut the third post to half time it was felt there was not enough work for thee full time people. She cautioned that if the post remains part time they cannot work more than 29 hours a week or the city is legally obligated to pay full benefits. However, if there are two part time people they could gain a few hours.

Cowell said adding $6,700 each to the water and sewer utility budgets would bring their costs up and might require another rate increase.

"I could not support this today. We need a lot more conversation," Schmidt declared.

The Personnel Committee had also approved 1 percent wage increases for city and utility personnel at its meeting on Monday, Oct. 1, which had included a closed door negotiating session with Teamsters Union representatives and a contract agreement for the 1 percent raises plus a raise in shoe allowance, with other benefits to remain unchanged.

Kasal suggested if the half time deputy clerk/treasurer position was to remain half time that she should get more than the 1 percent raise since she gets no benefits.

Schmidt asked if all employees were to get the 1 percent raise, and Malke replied, "not all of them."

There was some discussion between Malke, Kasal and Morois while calculations were being made, and Behnke objected that he and other committee members were being excluded from the discussions. "Maybe you should come back when you have all the numbers so I can look at them," he suggested.

Eventually calculations determined returning the half-time position would allow them to deduct $6,738 from each of the three city department budgets that the position serves, cutting a total of $20,214 from the proposed budget.

The budget made slight provision for attending educational conferences and seminars, and Behnke strongly suggested keeping that. "We've had a big turnover on our Council and some of us veterans need some refreshers," he commented. "Education does make a difference. There needs to be more professionalism." Decision was to leave that item unchanged.

Malke noted that the police budget included only $3,200 for police uniforms, and asked if that was enough, since they were adding new officers. She said the city doesn't even currently give part time officers jackets. Decision was to raise that allocation to $4,500.

There also was a decision to give Police Lieutenant Jared Phillips the same 1 percent raise as other officers, to retain the differential between his pay and that of patrolmen. Chief Badgley said Phillips has been doing a fantastic job for the department. Each 1 percent raise adds approximately $600 to the city budget. Badgley said the part time officers also have been doing fantastic jobs, and even come in to train Peshtigo officers, "which saves us a ton of money." Badgley also has been filling in on patrol when needed.

Malke noted there had only been $3,500 budgeted for the Rescue Squad, and wanted it raised to $5,000. Behnke said that contribution was raised last year from $2,000 to the $3,500, "and that was their first raise in 24 years!"

Malke, who is an active member of the Rescue Squad, said it is embarrassing to be the lowest contributor of all the municipalities the squad serves. She reminded them the squad provides ambulance and emergency rescue services to the city 24/7.

Schutte said she had been told the Squad only covers Peshtigo two days a week. Malke declared that is absolutely false.

"They're an asset to the city," Badgley declared. He said rather than having to wait for an ambulance to get here from Marinette, "The Squad arrives within minutes of a call."

Eventually the budget was amended to provide $5,000 for the Rescue Squad.

Going on line by line,Cowell offered to take off $500 from the plow replacement budget because their new truck will come with plow blades. However, he said, he has been trying to get the city to budget more for roads because costs of maintenance goes up when investment in construction goes down. "We're spending more to keep old roads together longer," he said."We're on a 40-year rotation now." However, he grudgingly said they could cut a little from road construction, "I put it in there knowing full well it might be cut." Eventually the Public Works budget was shaved from $86,574 to $84,320.

Money for the Peshtigo Fire Cemetery maintenance was untouched, even though the city and town both recently learned that the town officially owns it, not the city. For years the city's Parks and Recreation Department has been taking care of mowing and other maintenance there.

Malke said when the Para Normal TV show wanted to film at the cemetery she and Kasal had gone to Oconto to research ownership. Records are there because at the time of the fire Marinette and Oconto Counties were still all part of Oconto County. There they had learned that the town owns the cemetery. Malke said the town recently passed a motion to turn it over to either the city or the Historical Society, which takes care of maintaining the Fire Museum building.

Asked about maintenance expense there, Zahn said several trees will need to come down this year.

Behnke noted there was no allocation for the Skateboard Park, and Morois said a $1,000 donation will be carried over for them.

After discussion of numerous items in the Parks and Recreation budget Zahn offered a place they could take $4,000, since they had added $2,000 this year for staining the pavilion. He and Cowell offered a few other minor cuts that were accepted.

Riverside Cemetery Association had asked for a 10 percent increase. Malke noted a few years ago that allocation was raised to $50,000, and then the next year it somehow went back down to $45,000 without anybody taking action. There were some requests to see itemized expenses for the cemetery. Schutte said the cemetery asked for $48,895 last year, and got $47,500. This year the proposed budget provided $50,604.44, based on their requested 10 percent increase.

"I don't mean to get nasty, but just because they're asking, we don't have to put a 10 percent raise in our levy," Morois commented. She noted other departments were being asked to cut.

Schmidt said they should increase the cemetery and Rescue Squad allocations by $1,500 each, "to make it fair," and added, "Anita isn't going to get any paper clips," when she suggested taking the final few hundred dollars from the office supplies allocation.

There was a question from the audience on if it was deliberate or an oversight that other city employees all got the 1 percent raise, but Zahn's salary was scheduled to stay the same.

That led to an exchange between Malke and Schutte, who chairs the Personnel Committee.

"I personally think nobody should get a raise," Schutte declared. She said raises should be given only every other year.

Malke disagreed. "They - we - did not feel that one person should get a raise because of the things he had been written up for."

Schutte insisted she had not felt one person should be singled out. Malke said that was not what she said at the Personnel meeting.

Schmidt interrupted the exchange and called the meeting back to order with the comment, "That discussion is beyond what this meeting is for!" She noted Zahn had gotten a raise last year, and asked for a motion on the budget as it had been revised.

"Can I assume this budget is passed on the Parks and Recreation director being separated into two positions?" Behnke asked.

Schmidt said no, it was budgeted as is, and if they wanted to discuss the other proposal, they could do so later in the year.

Malke said the wage thing done differently was returning the secretary (deputy clerk/treasurer) post to part time, with a 1 percent raise. Malke said another difference was giving the Public Works mechanic an additional $1 an hour raise to see more separation from the rest of the crew. He currently is making only 50 cents an hour more for all his skill and knowledge, she said.Behnke agreed that is a great thing.

Motion to pass the budget as amended drew ayes from all three committee members.

Schmidt then suggested they borrow for the new Public Works Department plow truck. Kasal said that truck will cost about $175,000 and it is shared with the utilities. To keep the city's portion the same they should keep the debt at $250,000.

Morois reminded them the TID is being closed, which may bring income to the capital expenditures account. Cowell also wants a one-ton dump truck, and Zahn needs another mower for the Parks Department, which will cost about $20,000.

Morois had attended a recent meeting of the Marinette County Industrial Development Corporation where Mark Staff, from the Wisconsin Department of Administration's Division of Energy, Housing and Community Resources had presented information to local units of government on changes to the Revolving Loan Fund for Economic Development (RLF-ED) CLOSE Program. The borrowing she suggested would provide a way to keep the RLF money in the City of Peshtigo for future economic development use rather than having it reclaimed by the federal government. The committee agreed that was a good plan, and would keep the tax rate basically even.

"Through the last 10 years we've kept our costs down, and kept our taxes down," Behnke commented."We are among the lowest taxed small city in the state.I think we've cut as far as we can go and still keep control of everything."

They then unanimously approved a motion to authorize borrowing the amount of money needed to keep the city's tax levy the same, and then approved a motion to adjourn.

The City Council will meet on Wednesday, Nov. 7 due to elections on Tuesday, Nov. 6, which would be the regular meeting date. They then will hold the special council meeting and public hearing on the budget on Thursday, Nov. 15. the next Finance Committee meeting will be at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 20.


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