Superior mayor pitches four budget proposals
Less borrowing, improving city fiscal health, and providing services without raising the tax levy are priorities within the proposed financial plans.
The Superior City Council got its first look Tuesday, Sept. 7, at planned spending in 2022 for city operations, capital improvements, the 2020 budget surplus and the revolving grants program.
The budget proposals eliminate $3 million in projected bonding for capital improvements, creates a $910,000 revolving grant fund, spends $1.5 in surplus revenue to continue to improve Superior’s fiscal health and supports the city’s $32.2 million in operations without increasing the city’s property tax levy.
“What I’m going to present to you are four distinct policies that I’ll ask you to take together because they work very carefully together,” Mayor Jim Paine said.
The city’s proposed $32.2 million operating budget covers the costs of employee wages, benefits and general operating expenses for city services.
Paine said the budget accounts for priorities set by members of the city council and includes an increase in spending for mass transit; adds an administrative position in the fire department; maintains the property tax levy; converts parks administrative staff to one full-time position; and increases staff training budgets.
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“One of the most remarkable things I’ve been able to do this year that I’ve never been able to do … the future projected deficits are all zero,” Paine said. “We have always projected a deficit for every subsequent year because of the increase in costs. We’ve eliminated all those deficits.”
Two-thirds of all spending goes to pay for public works and public safety.
Paine said that includes $65,000 in staff funding for fire department staff. It would also retain two grant-funded positions in the police department after grant funding was lost by converting the positions from sworn to nonsworn staff to help the public with nonemergency issues.
General government expenses account for about 8% and debt service accounts for 9% of the city’s overall budget.
Paine said he anticipates the levy will remain the same as last year, which means increasing property values could result in people paying a little less for city services. Closing tax increment district No. 8 this year will add hundreds of thousands of tax value to help pay taxes previously covered by property owners, he said.
Superior’s capital improvement program includes $3.9 million in essential expenses for 2022 and another $933,339 in discretionary spending. It includes $1.4 million for general street maintenance, $500,000 for sidewalks, $300,000 for park improvements and funding for capital equipment needs in the police, fire and public works departments.
“There are very few surprises in here,” Paine said. “The only thing that stood out the most to me: Connect Superior.”
Using a weighted system to determine what projects made it into the capital improvement budget, Paine said the brand new proposal was among the highest ranked priorities established by councilors.
Paine included $150,000 in funding for Connect Superior, a proposal to build a city-owned fiber optic network for high-speed internet.
“The overall stability of the CIP is striking,” Paine said.
He said the city has spent $4 million to $5 million annually for infrastructure and large equipment purchases going back to the 1990s.
The plan also eliminates taking out $3 million in new debt in 2023 to help pay for the plan.
Surplus revenue from the 2020 budget will be used to bolster the property revaluation fund, liability insurance fund, capital improvement fund, economic development and the new revolving grant fund.
Paine said $50,000 in funding would allow the plan commission to provide additional small business grants this year.
The allocation includes $400,000 that could help Superior become self-funded for worker’s compensation.
“We have worker’s comp insurance, but our losses are far below the cost of premiums,” Paine said.
The city council would make an independent decision on that and the funding just gives them the tool to do so.
“Based on an analysis an outside insurance company did for us, over a historical five-year period, we would have saved around $500,000,” finance director Ashley Puetz said.
“That’s real dollars,” Councilor Jack Sweeney said.
The fiscal health of the city is a priority when it comes to spending surplus revenue, Paine said. With a healthy surplus, he said the money should go to protect internal funds and mitigate against disasters.
The revolving grants program accounts for grant funding available for nonprofit organizations, public art, small business grants and those distributed by the Superior Festival Committee and Parks and Recreation Commission.
“The public art fund is absolutely huge, I know, but there are some major projects that we have the opportunity to do and I’m recommending $500,000.”
If funded by the council, those projects could include a giant mural on a grain elevator, recreating the Grand Army of the Republic Arch at Broadway Street and Tower Avenue, and an expansion of the Veterans Memorial, Paine said.
Paine encouraged councilors to get their questions answered before adopting the 2022 budgets. The earliest a decision could likely be made is the council's next meeting on Sept. 21. The deadline to adopt the budget is Oct. 5.