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The original item was published from 3/8/2019 10:24:15 AM to 1/1/2021 12:00:12 AM.

News Flash

Impacts of Levy Limits

Posted on: March 8, 2019

[ARCHIVED] Village of West Salem

West Salem

How does the levy limit impact your community's services?    West Salem had always prided itself on being one of only two municipalities in the State of Wisconsin without any general obligation debt. West Salem has always been frugal with precious taxpayer dollars. Levy limits set in place forced West Salem to get on the borrowing train, and, of course, there is no way off this train. West Salem used to set aside funds one year to carry over to the next year toward the purchase of replacement public works vehicles, police squad cars, or street reconstructions. This is no longer possible, and West Salem is to the point that all capital expenditures have to be borrowed for. Our public works department plow trucks, dump trucks, and equipment are all well over ten years old (some are over twenty years old), and maintenance and repair costs are increasing. There are no funds to replace any of these vehicles and equipment without borrowing. No street projects were budgeted for in 2018 because there were no funds available to do so. West Salem used to be able to reconstruct or repair full Village blocks of streets. We can only afford one block at a time now. Our police department is relying more on the County Sheriff's Department to respond to calls for service because our police department does not have the staff it needs for 24/7 coverage. Badly needed municipal building maintenance is not being done because the Village must spend its dollars providing mandated services. The cost of living and the costs of keeping West Salem operating FAR exceed the tiny levy limit increases allowed by the State of Wisconsin. Municipalities are falling apart, and thus far, the Governor and the Legislature are more interested in securing votes for their elections than they are at making sure the folks that really do the work are able to do the work mandated by the State. This has to end or municipalities will be going out of business.

How does the levy limit impact your community's budgeting practices and finances, eg, your amount of borrowing?    West Salem has never been willy-nilly spending taxpayer dollars on fluff. Before levy limits, estimates were obtained for reconstruction of the oldest street including DNR mandated utility main upsizing, and the costs were included in the next year's budget. The needs of the community were carefully considered and included in a budget. After all other revenue was plugged into the budget, the remaining funds needed were levied on the taxpayers. With levy limits, we are forced to now budget backwards. We are notified what our meager levy dollar amount is, add to it expected other revenue, and only then are we able to consider expenditures. After normal operating expenditures are considered, the initial draft budget is always in the "red". The Finance Committee cuts what it can from the budget, and then what capital is the most demanding for the upcoming year is decided. That decision is then discussed with the bank for loan options. The West Salem School District has an operating funding referendum on every election ballot, and the electorate here has referendum fatigue. The voters would not approve a capital acquisition referendum for the Village of West Salem, and, in fact, resoundingly turned our referendum request down eight years ago. West Salem was forced to borrow for our portion of a badly needed fire truck for the West Salem Volunteer Fire Protection District.

How does the levy limit impact your community's staffing levels and employee compensation?    The public works department and the police department have suffered the most as a result of meager levy limit allowances. Similar sized municipalities have at least two more full time police officers than West Salem can afford. We have one and a half public works department employees plus the public works director tending to the potholes and snow plowing of this Village of 5,042 residents with nearly 30 miles of streets. We have to pull utility employees out to perform street department duties as a result. No new employees can be added to the public works department, and capital expenditures have been foregone in order to add one police officer to our force over the last ten years. The Administration office functions with two full time employees, and one part time employee. Compare this to similar sized and even smaller municipalities who are able to staff twice that number! None of our employees are receiving even average compensation for the work they are performing compared to other municipalities, and there is nothing the Village can do about this. We constantly lose good, well-trained employees to the County or other municipalities who are able to pay better than the Village.

Anything else you'd like to say regarding the impact of levy limits on your community?    Continuing tiny levy limit increases and always increasing expenditure increases will hamstring local governments to the point no improvements will ever be afforded. West Salem has reallocated several employees to other funds and cut parks staff. More services are offset by increased user fees and fees and permit costs were increased. There is nothing more we can do to keep the doors open here unless there is some relief from levy limits. Our public blames us for lack of maintenance of parks and streets. The complaints mount, and public service work is not nearly as attractive and fulfilling as it used to be.

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