Council opposes UWW budget cuts


Stephanie Abbott

By JAMES KATES / Capstone Managing Editor

The Whitewater Common Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution decrying the effect of Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget cuts on the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Walker proposes cutting $300 million from the UW System over the 2015-2017 biennium. UW-Whitewater would take a hit of $6.4 million to $8 million in each of those two years, said Councilmember Lynn Binnie, who co-sponsored the resolution with Councilmember Ken Kidd.

UWW is a “significant driver of economic development” and supports the “cultural climate” of Whitewater, Binnie said.

Kidd acknowledged that the council has no official say over the state budget, which must be approved by the Legislature before taking effect July 1.

“We understand that this is a symbolic gesture, but maybe if there are enough gestures of this type, we can reach critical mass,” Kidd said.

Councilmember Stephanie Abbott, who is active in Republican politics, expressed fears that the budget cuts would be a “huge hit” for the campus and said she hoped a more moderate approach would prevail.

Abbott, a UW-Whitewater graduate, credited the university for “much of what I am and have become.”

City Manager Cameron Clapper told the council that UW-Whitewater could “in theory” make up its budget shortfall by raising tuition $5,000 a year for all out-of-state students. UWW has a large number of students from Illinois.

However, there would certainly be “a drop in students coming from out of state” if the university raised tuition drastically, Clapper said. Also, a freeze on in-state tuition is likely to continue, further squeezing the UWW budget.

Regarding K-12 education, Clapper expressed disappointment that the budget would eliminate $150 per student in “categorical aid,” resulting in a $290,000 hit for the Whitewater Unified School District in the coming school year.

Meanwhile, Clapper told the council that Walker’s budget would have less drastic effects on the city’s finances. He expressed concern about a proposed moratorium on the state’s stewardship grant program, which supports land purchases by government and improvements to parks and recreation areas.

The budget would centralize property-tax assessment throughout the state by having assessments done by each county, rather than by cities, village and towns. Clapper said “open book” proceedings, which are informal reviews of disputed assessment values, still would be conducted locally.

Clapper and Common Council President Patrick Singer were in Madison on Wednesday to lobby for a “Partnership for Prosperity” sponsored by the League of Wisconsin Municipalities.

Municipalities have been stressed by state-imposed levy limits designed to hold down property taxes. The league’s plan calls for new state funding for job creation, levy limits indexed to inflation rather than just new construction, and increased transportation aids.

In other action Tuesday, the council:

  • Approved an agreement allowing the Wisconsin Independent Network to use city-owned conduits along Main Street for fiber-optic cable.
  • Endorsed a pact with UW-Whitewater to give the university access to the city’s emergency operations center in the event of a devastating emergency that required university police to relocate off campus.
  • Approved a $20,000 contract with Strand Associates to oversee design and construction of an improved handicap-access ramp at the downtown armory. The current ramp does not meet the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The armory stairs also would be repaired. The entire project is expected to cost about $100,000.