City Adopts Roll-Back Millage RateOct 1st, 2013 | By Admin | Category: Front Page
By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
At its second public hearing on the city’s proposed budget for FY 2013-2014, the City Commission voted to adopt the rollback millage rate of 6.1715, or the rate that would allow the city to collect virtually the same amount of revenue it will collect for the current fiscal year of 2012-2013. At a Rotary Club meeting the following day, City Manager Tim Bennett gave a presentation on the 6.5 million dollar budget the city had adopted, saying that he feared it would not be sufficient to run a city the size of Madison, and that it would potentially run into a shortfall in the tenth or eleventh month (which, in the fiscal year calendar, translates to July or August of 2014). It requires roughly 7.1 million to safely and efficiently run a city of Madison’s size, he said – to keep its parks and cemeteries maintained, its garbage collected, its drinking water clean and safe, its infrastructure repaired, and its natural gas, water and electricity safely delivered to customers, its fire and building codes enforced, its public safety maintained, and myriad other things that go into even the bare-bones functioning of a city in way that does not compromise the health and safety of its citizens. “What’s the solution for when the city runs out of money?” he asked. He had prepared a list of ideas for the short and long term; his goal was not to dip in the city’s contingency fund (its “savings account”) like he and the commission had to do last year to meet unexpected expenses, some from unfunded state mandates. A city the size of Madison, with monthly expenses averaging $590,000 per month, should have at least enough money to cover 3 months’ worth of expenses in a contingency fund, or about 1.8 million. Right now, the city has about 1.2 million in that fund. Compounding the problem is that the city is facing flat or declining revenues and rising expenses in a climate of flat or very slow economic growth. The revenue from what city customers pay for natural gas (one of two big money-makers for the city, the other one being wastewater fees) for example, is declining. There has been a five percent increase in natural gas rates every year, but that has not translated into any increase in revenue. It is possible that the mild winters for the last few years have meant that people are using less natural gas, but Bennett is having an auditor look at the issue to make sure something else isn’t amiss. Another complication is that the aging infrastructure means that the crumbling streets are generating repair bills almost every week. At the aging wastewater plant, the city cannot re-invest revenue in infrastructure there because there is no revenue left over with which to do so. In the future, the city is going to be hit with increasing needs for things like meters, piping and other materials. When it comes to public safety, its police department is staffed at slightly higher levels than cities of comparable size and population. Currently, however, because of grant money requirements, those staffing levels must be maintained until the grant expires. Two or three years down the road, the city can look at reducing the number of police officers, but through attrition, not layoffs. In the mean time, whenever a city employee quits or retires, “We’re going to take a long hard look at whether or not we can get by without someone in that position before we consider replacement,” said Bennett. Madison is also reducing overtime and will look at increasing rates for services like water sewer and natural gas, if they are justified. It will look at possibly outsourcing or bidding out some of its services, and increasing employee contributions to retirement funds. On the one positive note, the city was able to reduce its healthcare costs by 19 percent by switching carriers. Rotarian Jim Stanley added that he had served on the board of city commissioners for many, many years, and never had the city commission been so well informed of what was going on than since Bennett arrived. “Now I know everything that goes on in that city hall,” he said. “I can’t commend Tim enough for the hard work he’s doing.” “We’re open to anything,” Bennett said. “We’re open to any good ideas.”