How Dayton officials post the town’s budget in legal notices and the definition of the word “deficit” were among issues debated at the Nov. 21 budget hearing.
Dayton approved a $568,371 tax levy for 2014 after a budget hearing which lasted more than two hours with nearly 60 citizens in attendance.
The levy passed by a vote of 34-20 and results in a 1 percent tax increase.
According to estimates provided by Treasurer Brenda Hewitt, Dayton’s 2014 tax rate will be approximately $1.58 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, up by approximately 2 cents.
During debate on the budget, Bob Ellis, who represents Dayton on the county board, questioned the figures presented in Dayton’s legal notice for the proposed budget.
Ellis noted that most towns’ public notices compare the actual budgeted levy of the prior year to the proposed levy for the new year.
Dayton’s public notice indicated “2013 anticipated” taxes, which it compared to budgeted taxes for 2014.
Dayton electors approved a $555,000 tax levy in 2013, but the public notice reads $595,111 in anticipated taxes and indicates the town will have a 4.3 percent decrease in its taxes.
“You went from $555,000 to $595,000, making it look like you’re lowering taxes,” Ellis said. “It’s an increase, not a decrease.”
“You’re misinterpreting some numbers,” Klein said, indicating the figures in the public notice included all local tax revenues the town expects to collect in 2013.
State Rep. Kevin Petersen, who is a former Dayton Town Board member, spoke about the town’s proposed budget.
“Actually, the town of Dayton did better last year on collecting delinquent taxes,” Petersen said, regarding the figure posted in the legal notice. “The actual taxes collected were above what was levied.”
Dayton’s 2014 budget also provides a substantial increase in public works, which will rise from nearly $576,000 in 2013 to $835,000 in 2014.
Klein attributed much of this increase to three bridges scheduled for replacement in 2014.
Two of the bridges are located on West Road, with one crossing Radley Creek and the other, Emmons Creek. The third bridge crosses Radley Creek on Dayton Road.
Under state law, Dayton’s expenditures for highways and bridges is capped at $5,000 per mile of town roads. With approximately 75 miles of road, Dayton’s highway and bridge spending is limited at $375,000, unless town electors vote to approve spending above the limit.
“Ten-thousand dollars per mile is closer to what the average town in Wisconsin is spending right now,” Klein said. “We are trying to be fiscally responsible.”
Klein said Dayton anticipates nearly $200,000 in state aids and grants to cover the cost of the bridges.
At the public hearing, citizens questioned the necessity of repairing all three bridges.
Klein said the bridges were more than 100 years old, but engineered to last only 75 years.
He said the bridges do not meet modern highway standards, noting area farmers must use State Highway 22 to move their equipment because the town bridges are too narrow.
While there is no imminent danger, Klein said the bridges are visibly in need of replacement.
“It hasn’t collapsed yet, but I would hate for it to be used by a school bus and choose that moment to collapse,” Klein said.
Marilyn Dixon asked why Dayton was spending down its unreserved funds to build three bridges.
According to the budget, Dayton’s unreserved funds balance will drop from $657,000 in 2013 to $379,000 in 2014.
“I consider that deficit spending,” said Casey Plunkett, noting the town was pulling money from its fund balance for the second year in a row.
“How sustainable is the trajectory we’re on?” Plunkett asked. “At some time, we’re going to run out of that rainy day fund.”
“This is not a deficit-spending budget,” Klein said. “Deficit spending is year after year.”
Klein argued that the bridges were a one-time expenditure which would not need to be repeated every year.
Petersen said Dayton was a likely candidate to receive state grants that would provide additional funding for the bridges, thereby returning some of the 2014 expenditures to the fund balance in 2015.
Without the electors voting to spend above the state cap on highways, Dayton would not get the grants or the bridges.
Petersen then made a motion to set the town’s highway expenditures for 2014 at $835,000. The motion passed by a 30-25 vote.