Efficiency requires OK from the stateStarting in 2010, a city or village that wants to operate its police or fire departments more efficiently and save tax dollars will first need permission from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.
By: By Dan Thompson, Superior Telegram
Starting in 2010, a city or village that wants to operate its police or fire departments more efficiently and save tax dollars will first need permission from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.
I know it sounds crazy, but I am not making this up. The new requirement is called “maintenance of effort for emergency services.” It appears in Section 79.07 (3) of the Wisconsin statutes. Here is the language:
A county or municipality may decrease the amount it spends for emergency services below its 2009 amount, with the Department of Revenue’s approval, if the decrease in expenditures is a result of operating more efficiently, as determined by the department.
DOR recently released a worksheet for implementing the new requirement. Basically, DOR will collect data from municipalities to determine 2009 baseline spending on police and fire services. This will be one more bureaucratic report for our clerks and treasurers to complete and return – at taxpayer expense.
Over 1,900 local governments will submit 2009 expense reports. The deadline is May 15, 2010. How DOR staff will find time to read all those reports – at taxpayer expense – is not clear.
How DOR is going to use all this data to approve or disapprove local efficiency efforts is also not clear.
The politics of the new law, however, are perfectly clear. The police officers union and the firefighters union lobbied hard to persuade Gov. Jim Doyle and legislative leaders to include “maintenance of effort for emergency services” in the 2009-11 state budget, signed into law on June 29 as Act 28. The union goal is to prevent city councils and village boards from reducing the number of police officers and firefighters on the municipal payroll.
Any city council or village board that requests an “efficiency waiver” from DOR should expect a vigorous challenge from the police or firefighters unions.
City and village officials are coping with cuts in shared revenue payments from the state and levy limits on local property taxes. To handle those cuts and limits, local leaders need flexibility to reorganize and streamline municipal services, especially in this difficult economic recession.
Local officials don’t need restrictive and wasteful nonsense called “maintenance of effort for emergency services.”
Dan Thompson is the executive director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities.