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City budget focuses on priorities

Superior's City Council got its first look at the city budget for 2018.

It's a spending plan that eliminated a potential deficit, targeted money toward City Council priorities and won't raise the city's portion of the tax levy above 2017 levels.

The city's $28.9 million budget — 46 percent of which is supported by taxes and assessments — accounts for 33.2 percent of total tax levy.

"We introduced a number of changes this year," said Mayor Jim Paine. "First and foremost was the introduction of Council priorities at the beginning of the budget process."

In June, the Council met for an exercise to establish priorities and set goals for city government.

After the Council ranked their priorities, Paine said those priorities were shared with city department heads to prepare their own budgets in the context of the Council's priorities.

Among the Council's priorities were efficient, effective and transparent government; safe communities; access to safe, affordable housing; efficient multi-modal transportation; development of commercial, educational, recreational and entertainment opportunities; enhanced economic opportunities; and protection and enhancement of natural resources.

"With these priorities in mind, department heads were tasked with developing their own departmental budgets," said Chris Bronson, assistant finance director. "They were fiscally responsible and in-line with these priorities."

For example, Bronson said the Police Department's training and overtime budget was increased to enhance community policing, and improve crisis intervention and de-escalation skills. A new software system will help increase efficiency and cooperation between Building Inspection and Fire Department inspections. Plus, funding was increased to the Neighborhood Improvement Fund, a 2 percent wage increase was budgeted for all nonunion staff — only the police and fire departments are unionized following the state's 2011 Act 10 — and funding was increased for the Superior-Douglas County Dive Team.

"We started out with a potential $400,000 budget deficit," Bronson said. "We were able to eliminate that and accomplish these other points."

The most significant change in the budget this year is the way it was presented to the Council.

Instead of page after page of spreadsheets, a book was created to explain the budget and provide an overview of city finances and operations.

"It was very important to me that every citizen be able to open this budget and read it, and understand the way their money is spent," Paine said. "Financial documents are at times difficult to read and I think it's very important that we recognize that, and make sure that not just the Council, but anyone who wants to look over the budget — for good or for ill — is able to understand how we spent their money."

The Council referred the proposed budget for discussion at its Sept. 19 meeting.

The proposed budget can be found in the Finance Department on the second floor of the Government Center and online at www.ci.superior.wi.us/DocumentCenter/View/9807.

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