Over the course of a week department heads in Clintonville cut $190,149 from the city budget. That left the city needing to still cut $234,914 from the 2015 proposed budget.
That was news Finance Committee members received when the committee met, Tuesday, Oct. 21.
“Through staff’s hard work they made cuts and changes and that number is down to negative $234,836,” said committee Chairmain Mark Doornink on the General Fund deficit in the budget. He provided council members with a list of cuts department heads were proposing.
“Operating is where we’re in the most trouble,” Doornink said.
“First, thank you. This couldn’t have been easy making the cuts that are here,” said committee member Bill Zienert.
Zienert asked if department heads talked about other cuts.
“We’re not talking about minor things anymore. The first set [of cuts] were very painful. The next set [of cuts] are going to be very, very painful.” Zienert.
Doornink said the department heads are communicating, and focused on what they could cut now.
The largest cut in the budget was to wages and benefits for all non-union employees in all departments. The budget proposes a zero percent wage increase for non-union employees, as well as health insurance changes. This reduced the budget by $95,092.
Clerk Treasurer Peggy Johnson said there are two components that make up the insurance, and the city is looking at shifting it from the employer to employee responsibility.
Two different scenarios are being run regarding employee health insurance, she said.
Doornink said the city currently contributes the first $3,000 to the HSA account for employees. The first change the city is looking at is the employee contributes the first $500, then $501-$3,000 is contributed by the city. At $3,001 it turns into the HRA and the employee contributes $500, and then from $3,501 to the top maximum is covered by the city. Also, if the employee reaches the maximum, they contribute the last $1,000.
Alderwoman Mary-Beth Kuester asked if the city explored obtaining health insurance through the state plan.
Johnson said the city didn’t this this year, but has the previous three years and the state plan was always higher.
Doornink added that the city was predicting a 38 percent increase for employee health insurance. He said now it looks like it will probably be closer to a 33 percent increase.
“We’re still working some things to get that lower,” Doornink said.
“One thing with the city, we have a very high loss ratio, which is where we’re running into problems,” Johnson said.
Doornink said the size of the employee pool also plays a factor in the cost of health insurance.
Alderman Jim Krause asked if there was a breakdown by department as to the amount of cuts that have been made or intended to be made.
“I don’t think that one department should get hammered a lot more than others. I think it should be relatively even,” Krause said.
Doornink said the department heads made the cuts.
“I think some department heads have done a great deal of their homework and they’ve made cuts that other departments haven’t done,” Krause said.
Zienert reminded the committee that with the current cuts, the city is only halfway to its goal of a balanced budget.
“Where does that next $235,000 come from,” Zienert said. “What’s the proper process to give the direction we need to give so we can get an idea of what that looks like.”
“If we wanted to make a big cut, I would say we shut down the pool for a year,” Kuester said.
Doornink encouraged members to throw out ideas with an open mind.
“They’re going to get more painful than that suggestion,” Doornink said.
Doornink added that there is also a revenue component to the city’s swimming pool, so if the pool is shut down, revenue also goes down.
Alderman Greg Rose said he’d also like to see a breakdown of cuts by each department. He cited the example of the information Chief of Police Terry Lorge submitted, which clearly showed the sacrifices the police department was making.
Rose said a lot of the department budgets that have increases in them will have to be moved to zero percent increases.
John Wilson brought up the old Armory building which currently houses the Rec Center.
“How much do we spend on gas in the winter for one person being there?” Wilson asked.
Doornink said that the winter volleyball and basketball programs were cut as well as open recreation, and the summer disc golf program and youth basketball.
Doornink said the third floor of the building is used by the police department for additional records storage. The lower level is used to store cleaning supplies that are bought in bulk. The Clintonville Historical Society uses the building for storage, and the food pantry also uses the building.
Wilson said the fuel cost to heat that building could be eliminated and the items that can’t be in cold storage can be moved to other city buildings.
“That’s a waste of money heating that big building,” Wilson said.
It was pointed out that it costs about $11,000 to heat the building, which equates to half the operating cost of the building.
Committee member Phil Rath said the building is also used by the Park and Recreation Department in the winter to work on refurbishing items to be used in the summer.
Krause said the building is in disrepair.
“It would cost a tremendous amount of money to get that building back in shape to where it belongs. It looks horrible,” Krause said.
He said the city should use the money it would cost to heat the building and rent a large storage shed and then get rid of the Armory building.
The discussion moved to programs being cut.
Doornink said he hopes some organization will step up and keep some of the programs going that are going to be cut. He said that has happened in the past.
“I don’t want to see any of these programs [disappear],” Doornink said.
“I do believe that the athletics are pretty good at stepping up for anything that is ever needed,” said Alderwoman Gloria Dunlavy.
“The A’s have always worked hand-in-hand with the Rec Department,” Dunlavy added as an example.
Zienert said the city has a lot of parks, and that is a good thing, but he asked if something can be done to bring the cost of maintaining them down.
“There is a lot of ground to cover and maintain that is city property,” Zienert said.
“If we take away activities for kids in the summer months, that leaves them with idle hands,” Krause said.
He said eliminating parks wasn’t a good idea because kids need exercise and things to do.
Kuester said maybe neighborhood associations would be willing to take over the maintenance of some of the smaller parks.
Krause said that was a good idea, but would be concerned that as time passes, the help would diminish.
“If it’s going to be on a volunteer basis, don’t count on it lasting because I don’t think it will,” Krause said.
Interim City Administrator Chuck Kell said he’s been involved in budget issues like this in the past.
“I hate to say this, but quite honestly it took staff cuts, people cuts, where you save the salary and you save the benefits. That’s really tough. I’ve only been here, this is my second day, you don’t have a lot of staff to start with in a lot of areas. I think it’s going to be a difficult task to reach these numbers without maybe looking at that,” Kell said.
He also said he was involved with a situation in Little Chute where the city went from a dry policy for streets in the winter to one wear crews didn’t plow the streets until there were a couple of inches of snow on the ground.
“They kept the main routes open, and nice and clean, but side streets didn’t get plowed unless it was a bigger storm,” Kell said.
Kell did acknowledge he didn’t know what Clintonville’s plow policy is, or how much money changing the policy would save the city.
Dunlavy agreed with Kell. She said she sees other cities doing this.
Toby Kersten, Public Works director, said salt is currently not used on side streets, sand is used instead.
Kersten said plowing on side streets could be cut back, but then streets could become more hazardous and residents could complain about accidents, forcing the city to use salt on those streets to correct that problem.
Doornink said he thought the committee needed to look at the pay city council members receive. The budget currently included $28,000 for pay for council members.
“We’re cutting everywhere except for us,” Doornink said.
Kuester said she was torn on this because she said some of the city council members depend on the income they receive for being on the council. She said she supported Doornink’s suggestion, but wanted to give members the option of donating the money back to the city.
Dunlavy asked if not paying city council members would impact the number of people running for office.
“It is time consuming. If you do any amount of homework it takes some time,” Dunlavy said.
She said if council members wanted to give their money back to the city that would be fine, but she didn’t think the council should eliminate the pay for council members.
Kuester said the committee should also look at the mayor’s salary.
Zienert asked when the city is required to submit a balanced budget.
Doornink said the city must submit its budget to the county by Dec. 1. He added that prior to that, the city must hold a public hearing and approve the budget.
Zienert said that in his opinion many of the things the committee discussed were not feasible to research and implement in the short time frame the city has to submit a budget.
“I guess I’ll be the one to say it, that if nobody else wants to say it, we have to look at the possibility of either furloughs, which is how the state did some of it, and or direct cuts of staff. We’ve been dancing around the issue for the better part of an hour and a half. We need to offer some philosophy and perspective to our department heads so that they can give us some options because we’re running out of options,” Zienert said.
Kuester disagreed. She said all the items discussed should be cut from the budget, and then implementation of those cuts would take place in 2015.
Zienert said he didn’t know how the council can make a cut without knowing the specifics of how to make the cut.
“The number you would pull out would be little more than a guess with the hope that your guess was right given some of the major logistics you are talking about. I’m not saying don’t ever talk about it, I’m saying please don’t count on that to balance our budget. We need to make some hard decisions, and having people mow the parks is not a hard decision. We need to give some clear direction as to how we can reach these cuts effectively in the timeframe we have,” Zienert said.
The Finance Committee was scheduled to meet again, Tuesday, Oct. 28 to discuss the 2015 budget.
During the citizens forum portion of the meeting, Brad Rokus addressed the committee.
“I understand it’s budget season and the budget is probably going to be the hardest one that the city has faced in quite some time. Through actions of the council and actions that the council had nothing to do with the numbers are going to be tight and things are going to have to be seriously discussed,” Rokus said. “One thing I would like everybody to remember is that decisions made impact the community as whole.”
He added that labor numbers are more than numbers, there are people behind them who live in the community.
“I just want everybody to take a long, hard look and realize they’re affecting more than just the budgets, they’re affecting people’s lives,” he said.