Administration briefs council on challenges

The city of Superior is facing challenges -- staff retention, loss prevention, the high cost of building infrastructure and maintaining assets on a budget that basically covers the cost of providing basic services and the challenge of raising rev...

The city of Superior is facing challenges -- staff retention, loss prevention, the high cost of building infrastructure and maintaining assets on a budget that basically covers the cost of providing basic services and the challenge of raising revenue to achieve goals in an environment where higher taxes and new fees are not an option.

For more than three hours Friday, the Superior City Council heard from department administrators about the challenges that lie ahead as the city faces a $1.5 million budget hole in 2015.

"Interesting comments that I hear and it's easy to believe and understand, is when people say I pay my property taxes so my street should be paved and my sewer should be done, but realistically, property taxes pay for basic services," said Mayor Bruce Hagen. He said while the city does plug a few hundred thousand dollars in every year for projects, the only enterprise fund in the city that is self-sustaining is the fund for the Environmental Services Division. User fees pay for the cost of improvements.

"We are the only city in Wisconsin that does not have special assessments, and how I came to the realization is that I would drive through Rice Lake, Ashland, Bayfield, wherever, and it always strikes me that 'Geez, they're doing a lot of work,'" Hagen said. He said while other communities have special assessments to pay for improvements such as new sidewalks, roads, curb and gutter, Superior doesn't charge residents for those projects.

"It's a discussion that will probably never happen, but it should," Hagen said.


Another area that challenges city officials is the cost of operating the Superior Municipal Landfill on Moccasin Mike Road. After adopting a budget with a $200,000 deficit in revenue to support operations in 2013, the landfill budget for next year is facing another $497,000 budget hole next year, said City Auditor Chris Bronson. Bronson said continuing deficits in the landfill enterprise fund will eat up the reserve fund at the landfill by 2016.

Included in that budget is $1.6 million the city pays to the state in tipping fees, something for which the city receives no service from the state, Hagen said. And the city faces the challenge of collecting revenue for services provided to state-owned facilities because of action by the Legislature to minimize the state's expenses for those services.

While the council had been considering a new fee to help sustain the landfill, the Wisconsin Legislature's action on the state budget prohibited the council from creating that fee without reducing the city's tax levy by an equal amount.

Superior is among few city governments that use general fund transfers to help sustain landfill operations, a transfer that covers but a fraction of the cost of the $5.6 million operation, according to a report the council received in June.

The council has since hired a consultant to review the city's options, which includes determining the value of the landfill for a possible sale. The report is expected in March or April.

One area where the city is facing challenges across the board is in terms of hiring and retaining qualified staff to provide city services.

"We have had several employees leave our employment for the private sector," said Human Resources Manager Cammi Koneczny. She said the reasons have been across the board from better wages and benefits to employment location to retirement. With wages frozen, increased costs for retirement benefits resulting from Act 10, Koneczny said replacing those staff has become more difficult.

For example, she said, it took three recruitment efforts to fill four positions in the Public Works Department. And the qualifications of those applying for the positions are falling short of what the city is seeking, she said. One solution could be gradual wage increases that would bring city employees closer to what people in the private sector and other city governments are earning, Koneczny said.


"I realize we don't have a ... load of money to give away," Koneczny said.

In fact, the police department is facing the loss of 3½ grant-funded positions in the next year -- and police services the city has come to expect, according to Police Chief Charles LaGesse. The department already lost three positions last year -- two in patrol and one in administration -- after the union negotiated an unbudgeted wage increase to cover new retirement costs for officers created by Act 10.

Grant funding for positions in the fire department are also expected to end.

"Realistically, it's very costly to replace employees," Koneczny said.

"Most every department, I am totally amazed by the level of expertise and the depth that's being accomplished with fewer and fewer resources," Hagen said. "People, regardless of what they do, are extremely dedicated to getting the job done. It's just kind of a quiet happening."

It's really important for the city to retain staff to provide the level of service the public is accustom to, Hagen said.

"This is really good for me to recap a lot of stuff going on," said Councilor Tom Fennessey. "... We've heard about the library, fire halls and services ... we've set ourselves up for challenges."

What To Read Next
Get Local