Whitewater budget up 3.1% for 2016

Cameron Clapper

Cameron Clapper

By JAMES KATES / Capstone Managing Editor

The City of Whitewater is on sound financial footing, but only careful planning and stewardship will allow it to continue delivering services under tight fiscal constraints.

That was the take-away on Tuesday as City Manager Cameron Clapper delivered his 2016 budget to the Common Council. The council will hold a number of meetings and hearings with a target of approving the budget Nov. 17.

Clapper’s proposed general-fund budget calls for $9,777,798 in spending, an increase of $305,397, or 3.1 percent, from 2015.

The city’s tax levy would rise $46,076, or 1.5 percent.

City spending per capita is $413.31, well below the mean of $525.54 for similar sized communities in Wisconsin, according to data from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

The property-tax rate is 5.49 mills, or $5.49 for each $1,000 of equalized valuation. This, too, is below the state mean, Clapper said.

Besides property taxes, the city’s biggest source of money is state shared revenue, which is not projected to rise in 2016.

The city also would receive about $379,000 from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater to help pay for the university’s use of city services. The university is exempt from property taxes.

Clapper said rising costs and state-imposed limits on local taxes mean that budgets will remain very tight for the foreseeable future.

“We need to look at ways to fund things, which is always a big issue every year since costs go up and levies stay the same,” he said. “We are bumping up against a ceiling that will require changes to how we fund things if we want to be successful in the future.”

The budget’s biggest spending category is public safety – police, fire and rescue – which would total just over $4 million.

Total costs for wages and benefits in all departments would be $5.5 million.

“The Number One resource we have to get things done is our people,” Clapper noted.

Unusual expenses next year will include an extra $45,000 for city staffing for elections in February, April, August and November.

Looking ahead, Clapper said the city wants to increase water rates gradually to pay for facilities maintenance. Rates for the water utility, wastewater treatment and stormwater treatment will rise slightly in 2016. These smaller, incremental increases do not require formal hearings before the state Public Service Commission.

Clapper also said the city wants to keep up its long-term commitment to funding the Whitewater Aquatic Center. Besides its usual contribution of $78,000, the city will set aside $50,000 for maintenance on the 15-year-old facility.

In other action Tuesday, the council:

— Heard from Clapper on a proposed reorganization plan that would shift oversight of the Whitewater Aquatic Center to the city Parks and Recreation Board starting in 2017.

Under the plan, the current Aquatic Center Board would become a nonprofit “friends” organization that would do promotion and fundraising.

The Aquatic Center is located at Whitewater High School. Besides the high school lap pool, it includes a family pool, a water slide and public locker rooms. It is jointly operated by the city and the Whitewater Unified School District.

— Approved Fero’s Automotive and Towing as the city’s primary towing-service provider. The council also approved Mills Automotive as a secondary towing provider.

— Renewed an employment agreement with Whitewater Police Chief Lisa Otterbacher.

— Approved a $23,302 contract with Midwest Tree and Excavating Inc. to install fiber optic cable to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

The Common Council’s Oct. 20 meeting will be held at UW-Whitewater, at a location yet to be announced.