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New Berlin aldermen aim for zero in budget talks

Oct. 15, 2012

New Berlin - With an eye toward a zero increase in the property tax levy, city officials last week began parsing through the proposed 2013 municipal budget as several expenditures were removed.

When it was unveiled last month, city officials presented the Common Council with a proposed budget that included a proposed 2.6 percent increase in the levy. But a number of aldermen have adamantly stated they will attempt to cut costs.

Next year's budget features a number of highlights, including a one-time $400,000 line item toward switching emergency 911 calls over to Waukesha County's consolidated dispatch operation. Efforts also are under way to reduce borrowing, namely in the area of public works operations, from $8.5 million to $6.5 million.

At a Committee of the While meeting last week, council members brought cost-cutting ideas to the table. Each one was deliberated and voted on separately.

A majority of the council was not on board with several cost-cutting proposals, including an effort by Alderman Dave Ament to reduce the city's technology budget from $51,000 to $30,000.

But there was majority consensus on a number of other requests. In narrow 4-3 votes, aldermen agreed to trim several costs in the public safety budget.

A safety valve?

Police Chief Joe Rieder had restored a social worker position within his department budget, from part- to full-time. The once full-time position was reduced several years ago during a round of budget cuts. Rieder placed $87,000 in his budget for next year, but the council cut it to the current $42,000 funding.

"This is a very valuable program," Rieder said. "It's been a part of the New Berlin Police Department for over 30 years. We've made a lot of sacrifices over time, and this is something I don't want to see go away."

Several aldermen voting to cut the cost argued the sheriff could handle some of the social worker responsibilities.

"We can outsource anything, and we can go part-time with anything," Rieder said. "Whether it's right or wrong or will work is another issue."

Likewise, a proposal to allocate $180,000 toward replacement of six squad cars was reduced to $120,000. If the proposed changes stick when the full budget is voted on, Rieder will be able to replace four, rather than six, vehicles next year.

"Sometimes you have to make the tough decisions," Ament said of the rationale to cut capital expenses. "We have a fine police department with fine people serving on it. I'd like to cut costs outside of personnel."

Revenue boosts

Not all of last week's discussion focused on cutting costs. With traditional income streams not flowing as abundant as the past, officials have been touting the benefits of looking at other sources of revenue.

Alderman Ken Harenda successfully presented a proposal to enact a permit fee at the city recycling center for users, namely home contractors, residing outside the city. Staffing the site three days a week costs about $14,000 annually, and Harenda argued permit fees could recoup some of the cost.

Before any firm decisions are made, city officials will hold a public hearing in early November. The date and time have yet to be announced.

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