Taxes creep upTaxes are on the rise this year for city and county residents. Douglas County’s Administration Committee last week recommended a budget that includes a 1.6 percent levy increase, an increase slightly less than the consumer price index.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
Taxes are on the rise this year for city and county residents.
Douglas County’s Administration Committee last week recommended a budget that includes a 1.6 percent levy increase, an increase slightly less than the consumer price index.
Exactly how that additional $240,417 in spending in 2013 will shake out for homeowners depends on where they live, said County Administrator Andy Lisak. He said he expects the impact to be minimal for city residents, because $82,357 for bridge aid and $7,959 in increased spending for libraries is paid only by rural residents. That leaves about $150,000 to be paid by property owners countywide, with more than a third of that coming from new construction.
However, city residents are going to feel the impact of a 3.8 percent levy increase in Superior.
After a lengthy debate about maintaining city services — in particular, fire and medical protective services — and keeping the cost of government down, Superior’s City Council on Tuesday divided 6-4 to increase taxes by about $26 for $100,000 property value.
The levy increase allows the city to maintain the funding level for the Superior Fire Department to restore staffing levels to 33 union firefighters and four nonunion command staff.
The fire department is currently holding two positions open and lay off one firefighter to address a budget shortfall this year.
That staffing level would allow the city to maintain nine firefighters per shift to staff all three of the city’s strategically located fire halls. Any amount less would have forced the city to reduce its minimum staffing levels and would have resulted in staffing all three fire halls at least 69 percent of the time. No tax increase would have allowed the city to staff three fire halls only about 202 days a year — about 55 percent of the time, according to a summary of three proposals presented to the council by Superior Fire Battalion Chief Scott Gordon.
Gordon cautioned the council that it could end up closing one of the fire halls in 2013.
Councilor Tom Bridge, who voted against a similar tax increase two weeks ago, said it’s unfortunate the city is once again facing cuts in shared revenue from the state, forcing the city to increase its levy to pay for basic services. However, he said he was not willing to get behind cuts to public safety.
Bridge joined councilors Jackie Stenberg, Denise McDonald, Len Joyal, Bob Finsland and Mike Herrick to approve the increase.
Herrick said he believes the public will see a difference in service if the city doesn’t fully fund the fire department, particularly where emergency medical services are concerned.
“No one wants taxes to go up,” Herrick said. “We’re going to continue to look at this budget.”
Despite the increase, Mayor Bruce Hagen said the city was forced to eliminate its contingency fund in 2013, leaving the city ill-prepared to address emergencies should they arise in 2013.
Finance Director Jean Vito said the city’s 2013 budget is only about $4,000 more than it was in 2008; however, dealing with issues this year is much more difficult because the city no longer has the capacity to weather cuts in funding.
With the federal government planning to cut domestic spending by 10 percent — the impact of which remains unknown — and the likelihood of further cuts in state shared revenue. Vito said the next two years are likely to force even more difficult choices.
However, some councilors, having heard from people who say taxes are already too high.
Councilors Dan Olson, Warren Bender, Mick MacKenzie, and Bob Browne voted against the increase, citing the high cost of taxes already.
Marty Curtiss, a two-time council candidate, said people are already struggling and he’s heard from people who said it would simply be cheaper to move out of Superior.
Hagen and Bridge both took issue with the notion because unlike neighboring communities, many of the city services provided — including road, sewer and sidewalk maintenance, and garbage collection — do not result in special assessments being assigned to property owners in Superior.
This budget has already been whittled down after many months and many meetings, Hagen said.
A public hearing on the city budget has been set for 6:30 p.m. Nov. 7 in Room 201 of the Government Center.
Two major issues that have faced the Douglas County Board for years would be addressed if the board adopts the county’s proposed budget, Lisak said. He said next year, the county would borrow money to pay off the county’s pension liability with the Wisconsin Retirement System at a lower interest rate, and bond to fix county highways starting in 2015.
The board considers its budget at 6 p.m. Oct. 30 in Room 201 of the Government Center.