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Where the budget battle stands now

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl leapt to the defense of City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz at Saturday’s budget workshop when a resident criticized his budget cutting plans.

Irene Gregory of 1900 Sherman Ave. had said the manager was "taking a hatchet to cherished programs and would make an empty hull of the city."

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl leapt to the defense of City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz at Saturday’s budget workshop when a resident criticized his budget cutting plans.

Irene Gregory of 1900 Sherman Ave. had said the manager was "taking a hatchet to cherished programs and would make an empty hull of the city."

The mayor responded that the city manager "is doing exactly what the City Council asked him to do — come up with a budget that doesn’t raise taxes."

She added that the aldermen "value the diversity of the community and don’t want to increase taxes and thereby increase the number of people losing their homes to foreclosure."

So, where does the budget process stand for now for homeowners?

First, while the manager’s budget proposal technically does not raise property taxes, it does include a $1.4 million increase in trash hauling fees. If those costs were place on the property tax bill rather than the water bill where the city collects its trash fees, it would amount to a 3.5 percent increase in property taxes.

Supporters of the new trash fee scheme say it will give residents an incentive to recycle more and send less refuse to the landfill, because rates will vary depending on the size of trash carts used. That gives individuals more control over how much they pay than they would if the increase was added to the property tax bill.

But on balance it’s still a net increase in the cost of city services.

Otherwise, so far the aldermen have come up with a few suggestions for additional cuts. For example, Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward — thinks the city could cut back on tree trimming and possibly on elm tree injections.

But mostly they’ve identified some cuts they don’t like — such as closing the branch libraries.

Support for the branches wasn’t unanimous. And Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, who was out of town during the budget workshop, has since posted a note on her message board favoring closing the branches. She says she is convinced branch library supporters won’t be able to come up with private support they claim they can find and that "this ridiculous battle will rage on again next year."

Rainey, by the way, doesn’t like Holmes’ proposal for postponing tree trimming and the elm tree injections.

Meanwhile some budget-balancing ideas proposed by the manager may not be achievable because the other entities he’s counting on to pick up the tab won’t play ball.

That’s the case with a $290,000 proposal to have the school districts pick up the cost of police school resource officers. The school boards say they can’t afford it.

And several of the manager’s proposals for trimming employee benefit costs require the agreement of city unions which haven’t signed on to the plan so far.

So, whether the City Council will actually adopt a budget next month that doesn’t raise property taxes and does start to rebuild its reserves is still an open question.

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