Friday, September 15, 2006

Preliminary City of Oshkosh budget revealed

This past Wednesday night, city manager Richard Wollangk presented the Oshkosh Common Council with its first glimpse into the 2007 budget during a preliminary budget workshop.

A copy of the presentation can be found by going here.

As I indicated in an email to Mr. Wollangk yesterday, I still believe there are cuts that can be made. I just don't know that, when you look at how our hands are tied, especially in areas of labor contracts, there are enough cuts that can be made to offset how we've been hurt by the levy freeze. And while some services could be altered, or even reduced, to improve efficiencies, I am not sure that we want to see services as we currently know them drastically change or be done away with in their entirety.

Mayor Castle is proposing a referendum to exceed the levy. The direct impact has been explained to me in the following way by Dick Wollangk. "For 2006 our tax levy was $24,322,868 plus we projected that we would collect $629,750 for the 4th quarter sanitation fee for a total of $24,952,618. For 2007 we have projected that our levy limit would be $25,609,686 which is $657,068 more than we collected this year. The referendum, if passed, would allow us to have a tax levy of $26,635,878 which is $1,026,192 more than the levy freeze would allow us to receive.

"The impact of this higher levy on a taxpayer would be $.53 per $1000 of assessed valuation. This means that a home assessed at $100,000 would pay an additional $53 for city taxes to put sanitation back on the taxes and would also allow us to maintain our current services. We would still have to maintain a very lean budget and make some additional cuts but we would not have to impact core services as greatly or eliminate other services completely."

We've heard a lot of good suggestions on how to become more fiscally efficient and responsible, and I encourage the city to employ as many of those suggestions as possible. But again, I don't think that, even when added all together, they're going to make the kind of difference we need to see. So if we want to have garbage picked up and some of the other things continued that we've come to expect and often take for granted, we need to find a way to pay for them. If it comes down to fees or taxes, I'll opt for the taxes because the property tax bill is deductible on our income tax returns.

I would encourage the city council to approve Mr. Castle's referendum proposal and let the citizens decide if they would prefer fees or taxes - or neither. And that includes approval even by those council members who spoke in opposition of it the other night but who always say "we need to let the people decide." I agree, let the people decide this issue.

But that being said, whether the citizens go along with Mayor Castle's referendum or not, the council needs to behave more responsibly when it comes to fiscal matters and stop spending on frivolities - no matter what "budget" it's coming out of.

Because bottom line: Whether it's the general operating budget or the capital improvements budget, it's all coming out of the same pocket - yours and mine. And many are getting tapped out on what they can afford to pay and still live a modest life.

And if the levy question does get placed on the ballot, it should (a) provide language stating by exactly how much we'd be exceeding the levy freeze and (b) a promise that the levy would NOT be exceeded at all IF the garbage fee remains in the budget for 2007.

- Cheryl


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