Saturday, November 19, 2011

Dredging Up the Past and Much, Much More

The Monona city council meeting on Monday, November 21 promises to be a test of endurance. Not only do we have the second reading of the 2012 operating budget with 18 amendments but we also have a first reading of the2012 capital budget. And just because we all loooove talking about dredging at Belle Isle, we will be revisiting that topic; it's always a popular item and usually brings out the islanders in force (pro and con).

The major topic of debate on the operating budget is whether to cut the Monona police department staffing by one uniformed officer as Mayor Miller has proposed - or not as Alders Speight, Wiswell, and I have proposed. Chief Ostrenga provided some interesting data on crime stats and staffing (officers/1000 population). Kudos to Alder Busse for digging up the same (or very similar) data on his own. Wally put together a very useful summary memo that is in our paper packets, but not online (I think).

Profiles of some of the MOPD staff can be found here. The officer whose job is on the line is Officer Jared Wedig, a smart, motivated young guy in whom we have invested a lot of money and time. I can't see cutting an officer when we can afford to fund the position.

By the way, the budget still incorrectly states that the amendment I am co-sponsoring would be funded entirely from the fund balance. My original email said I wanted to use the small amount of room under the levy cap (around $50,000) first and then use the reserve fund. I restated that at the first reading, but it hasn't been changed. Reinstating the position would cost about $77K.

About the working capital reserve fund or fund balance. Back in 2003 when Robb Kahl took office, the reserve fund had shrunk to about 7%. The bond rating folks lacked gruntlement. They weren't happy peas in a pod. It looked like a listing fiscal ship. With Robb's leadership, the council adopted a policy of keeping the reserve fund between 15% to 20%. That policy was fundamental in the city's attaining a strong fiscal condition and thus, an extremely strong bond rating. I supported that policy and still do.

At the end of 2011, the city will have $977,069 or a reserve percentage of 20.71%.  If we keep the fund balance at 17.5% (smack dab in the mid-range of our policy), we will have $831,934. Thus, we have $145,135 available to apply to the city's operating budget. I would argue that is fiscally prudent and fair to taxpayers to return that $145,135 to the city's residents either in services or lower taxes.

See the box at the bottom of page 1 of the revised executive summary of the operating budget .

I plan to propose that we apply both money from the fund balance and money from the property tax cap room to each and every amendment. More specifically, I plan to propose that we pro-rate the use of levy cap room and fund balance so that we apply the same proportion of property taxes and fund balance to each amendment. The proposed amendments total $130K. Assume we have $50K in levy cap room. We would apply 38.46% (50/130) from the property tax levy and 61.54% (80/130) from the reserve fund. That way the amendments are all on the same fiscal ground and rise or fall or on their own merits.

Out for now...


  1. For what it's worth, I disagree with your proposal to split each amendment equally. You need to spend everything you can under the levy limit first.

    The city tried being frugal under Doyle and got burnt when Walker took office. Walker bases the levy limit on the amount spent each year, not on an inflation adjusted amount.

    While I have hopes that the Walker administration will change, either by it's own motivation or by recall, I think you have to budget for Monona with the thoughts of things staying the same. Under your 50/130 split, if an amendment doesn't pass, it will leave room under the levy limit.

    I agree that your proposal is a fair way to evaluate each amendment on it's own merits, but you also must do what you can to plan for future years. Perhaps the solution is to take the amendments in increasing fiscal order, so that the last one can use up what's left of the levy.

  2. Dredging, schmedging. yawn. I just got a Kindle and I vote you use your blog time for your book blog so I know what to read next.

  3. I for one agree with the 17.5% Fund Balance Doug-
    as well as your other ideas- Mike