Whitewater city budget up 2.5%

By JAMES KATES / The Capstone

The Whitewater Common Council on Tuesday got its first look at a 2020 city budget that proposes $9,865,236 in spending, up 2.5 percent from 2019.

Because the state is falling behind in sharing revenue from income taxes, local property-tax payers will have to shoulder more of that burden – about 40 percent in 2020. That’s higher than in previous years, and the proportion may go even higher in the future, City Manager Cameron Clapper said.

“Our residents over time will be asked to contribute more and more” toward the city budget, Clapper told council members.

Property taxes are levied on about $697 million worth of residential, commercial and industrial property in the city. The tax levy has been rising about 3 percent a year in recent years, Clapper said.

The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater is exempt from property taxes but makes a local payment in lieu of taxes in exchange for city services. That amount has not been determined yet, Clapper said.

Public safety is the biggest spending item in the budget at 36 percent, followed by general government at 15 percent.

Higher costs for 2020 will include a $60,000 boost in health-insurance premiums for city workers. The city will try to lower its workers’ compensation costs, which are running higher than in other cities of comparable size, Clapper said.

Whitewater city taxes make up about 25 to 28 percent of each local property-tax bill. The rest goes to Walworth County or Jefferson County government, the Whitewater Unified School District and technical colleges.

The council’s Finance Committee will review and possibly revise the budget at meetings Oct. 10, 17, 22 and Oct. 24 if needed. Final presentation to the Common Council will be Nov. 5. A public hearing and adoption of the budget are scheduled for Nov. 19.

Changes for schools

In other business, the council heard about developments stemming from the possible breakup of the Palmyra-Eagle Area School District.

On July 1, the Palmyra-Eagle School Board voted to dissolve the district following a failed April referendum to raise taxes to pay for operating costs.

The Whitewater Unified School District and six other districts border the P-E district. If the district is broken up, its students, taxable properties, debts and facilities will be distributed among the neighboring districts.

Depending on the changes, the boundaries of the WUSD may or may not be redrawn. “At this time, we can only speculate what will happen,” a document from the Whitewater district says.

A non-binding advisory referendum in November will ask P-E district residents whether they want to keep the school district running at current, lower funding levels. But it is more likely that a state appeal board will decide by Jan. 15 to break up the P-E district, said Matthew Sylvester-Knudtson, the Whitewater district’s director of business services.

The School District Boundary Appeal Board is assembled by the state Department of Public Instruction and does not include representation from the Palmyra-Eagle district or its neighbors, Sylvester-Knudtson said.

He and Mark Elworthy, district administrator for WUSD, said the Whitewater school district already is looking at contingency plans. If the P-E district is broken up, the changes would be effective next July. Neighboring districts would have just a few weeks to prepare for a reshuffling of pupils, debt obligations, tax records and school buildings before the start of the new school year, they said.

In other business Tuesday:

  • The Common Council agreed to schedule a future agenda item on placement of old cars and other unsightly items in yards and driveways. The action came after council member James Allen complained that by simply throwing tarps over cars, residents of one east side neighborhood apparently had bypassed city codes regulating junk vehicles. “This isn’t covered by ordinance,” so neighbors “have been looking at one car for 20 years,” Allen said.
  • The council approved a proclamation commending the CROP Walk against hunger on Sunday, Oct. 6, and urged citizens to participate. Part of the proceeds go to the Whitewater Food Pantry.
  • Clapper told council members that the city is seeking citizen volunteers for a “Complete Count Committee” to help assure that every local resident is counted during the 2020 U.S. Census. A full count will ensure that the city gets its fair share of federal and state revenues, he said.
  • The council approved a six-year assessment contract with Accurate Assessors of Menasha, amounting to $237,000 over six years.
  • The council awarded a $130,120 contract to Northern Pipe Inc. for Starin Road culvert joint sealing.

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