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New Berlin aldermen expected to push for big levy cuts

Oct. 2, 2012

New Berlin - While last week's overview of New Berlin's proposed 2013 budget was calm, fireworks were expected today as aldermen unhappy with the proposed 2.6 percent levy increase planned to push for drastic cuts in the levy.

Some city officials are reluctant to pile a 2.6 percent levy hike for city purposes on top of the 2.65 percent levy hike for the New Berlin schools.

"I'm still looking at a levy freeze and close to a zero increase," Alderman Ken Harenda, Common Council president, said last week.

"I could live with 1 percent," said Alderman David Ament.

Impact of debt and valuations

The operating budget does achieve a zero increase. But the levy would be up because the debt service is up as the city pays off what it owes - mainly for roads, but also for other projects and large equipment purchases. The city will pay $644,895 more just for debt service than it did this year.

Even that could get worse as the Public Works Committee grapples with lowering next year's borrowing from the proposed $8.5 million to $6.5 million.

The proposed 2.6 percent levy increase would cause the tax rate to skyrocket 12 percent. But that is because the tax base shrunk after the city revalued all properties this year, giving them new assessed values.

Because there are fewer thousands of dollars of property to tax, a higher tax rate is needed to raise the same number of dollars. If a property's assessment fell the citywide average of 9 percent, property taxes on it would go up 2.6 percent as the levy stands now. Properties whose assessments fell more than 9 percent would see less of an increase, but properties that fell less than 9 percent would see a bigger increase than 2.6 percent.

Finding funds

Other budget worries include a nearly $400,000 one-time payment to switch 911 emergency calls over to the Waukesha County's consolidated dispatching operation. Police Chief Joe Rieder said he thinks he can cover that in this year's police budget, but isn't sure. Another unknown is how much Wisconsin Retirement System payments will go up next year.

With an eye toward bringing in more cash, city officials are looking at selling naming rights and sponsorships, adding fees and at selling the largely undeveloped Quarry Park.

The Park and Recreation Department might raise $9,000 through banners for sponsors at the ballfields and through advertising in its brochures, estimated Mark Schroeder, parks, recreation and forestry director.

But the parks don't have many shelters or facilities that would attract naming rights dollars, he cautioned.

A recent consultant's report suggests several fees the city could add to raise revenue, but Mayor Jack Chiovatero said only two might be palatable.

One is charging We Energies and other utilities for extra work the city has to do in sewer projects to avoid disrupting their installations. The other potential fee is adding a 10 percent administration fee onto all services, such as building permits or licenses.

Park's potential

Similarly, the city may not hold onto Quarry Park, much longer. Ament suggested selling it or turning it into a revenue-generating recreational vehicle park for camping, like a Yogi Bear campground, given its setting rural setting off Interstate 43.

Harenda, in whose district the park in the southwestern tip of the city lies, said the idea should be pursued. The land could be sold and the money used to help pay off the debt, he said.

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