State budget prime topic for Whitewater council meeting

The Whitewater Common Council convened for a meeting this past Tuesday to discuss a number of items. First and foremost on this list was a reaction to the proposed state budget, but other topics such as the Partnership for Prosperity were also discussed.

All council members were in attendance for the council meeting, including City Manager Cameron Clapper. The meeting a handful of different topics but most were covered quickly, with the largest topic being the council’s reception of the state budget.

The budget, proposed by Gov. Scott Walker, contained within it a number of items that would affect the city of Whitewater. The largest and most readily apparent of these is the reduction in funding for the University of Wisconsin- Whitewater, a reduction which could very easily lead to a loss of staffing.

“$6.5 million is no small figure,” Alderman Sarah Bregant said, quoting the estimated loss of funding. “This isn’t something we’re just going to find being wasted on things. It’s used for education.”

Clapper elaborated on the topic with a powerpoint, explaining how the budget would be impacting the school. He explained that the of the school’s $120 million budget, roughly $15.3 million comes from the state as general purpose revenue.

Accordingly, the budget would cause a 30% reduction in this general purpose revenue, lowering it to $8.9 million. This would have a number of ramifications including an instate tuition freeze. The “simple” fix proposed for that was to raise out of state tuition by $5,000, which Clapper acknowledged wasn’t a very simple one.

The city manager assured explained that council just needed to assess the impact of the budget, but the general reaction among the council members was dislike, particularly in how the budget cuts would affect the survival of the university.

“Without rollover sick leave and their research sabbaticals, amazing professors won’t come here,” said Alderman Brienne Diebolt-Brown. “And the ones here will leave.”

Alderman Lynn Binnie also had concerns about the budget. According to him the university was a major benefit to the city. He talked about not just the cultural life that the school brought to the city, but also the population. UWW has a student population of around 12,000, and that number actually accounts for a very large percentage of the population of the city.

Even if this budget didn’t outright close the university, an admittedly drastic measure, the potential loss could still be catastrophic for the city as a whole. Binnie went on to introduce a resolution that would encourage the governor to make certain the school would have sufficient funding. The resolution would obviously be merely a gesture.

“The hope,” explained Ken Kidd, a councilmember at large, “is enough gestures occur to reach critical mass and cause a difference.”

A second major topic covered at the meeting was the adopting of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities Partnership for Prosperity Agenda. The agenda would be a process for determining levies and shared revenues review, as well as transportation aids. It would also incentivize economic development.

A handful of other topics were discussed in a much quicker fashion. Among these included the use of a conduit along Main Street, approving Strand Associates proposal for Downtown Armory ramp and stair replacement, and the approval of and understanding between the city and the UWW police services for use of the city’s emergency operations center in the event of an emergency.