Veteran Port official calls budget one of the toughest he’s seen

Ozaukee Press staff

Port Washington’s tax rate for next year is expected to increase almost 5% according to a proposed 2020 budget recommended by the city’s Finance and License Committee last week.

The committee, which met in an all-day budget review session Oct. 22, approved a $9.9 million general fund operating budget for 2020, up 2.2% from this year.

The tax levy is proposed to be $6.13 million while the tax rate needed to raise that amount is projected to be $6.60 per $1,000 assessed valuation. 

That’s an increase of 31 cents per $1,000, or 4.9%, from last year’s rate of $6.29 per $1,000.

City Administrator Mark Grams said the biggest challenge with the proposed budget was meeting the state levy limit while dealing with inflationary increases, a 2.25% wage increase and a health insurance increase of more than 8%. 

“Those are the biggest obstacles we faced,” Grams said. “That doesn’t leave you any wiggle room.”

The proposed budget comes in $264.12 under the levy limit, he said.

The budget also meets the state’s expenditure restraint program limits, Grams said. He didn’t have the final number of the allowable increase, but said he expects it to be about 2.8% — higher than the 2.2% increase that’s recommended.

The budget is largely a status quo financial plan, Grams said. It maintains virtually all the city programs, but there are few if any increases.

Unfunded in the budget is a proposal by Fire Chief Mark Mitchell to hire another full-time firefighter-paramedic, Grams said. 

The police department wants to fill two positions vacant due to retirements — the captain and a lieutenant — but these posts won’t be filled until about mid-year, he said.

A full-time worker in the public works department office will be replaced, at least initially, with a part-time employee as a cost-cutting measure, Grams added.

The budget also calls for water rates to increase 3% next year to help pay for capital upgrades and for sewer rates in increase as well, probably about 5%, Grams said.

Marina slip fees will also increase by about 3%.

Grams said there is some potential for a little budget relief if the city receives a $750,000 grant it is seeking to help fund repairs to the east end of the breakwater.

The city should learn by the end of November if it will receive the grant, he said. If it does, that will free some money to use for other programs.

The breakwater project is slated to move ahead next year, financed in large part with grants and borrowed funds.

Grams, who is retiring and compiling the last city budget of his career, said the job has become more frustrating in part because of the levy limits.

“They don’t even allow you to increase your budget the rate of inflation,” he said.

In contrast, he said, the expenditure restraint program allows communities to increase their expenditures by the rate of inflation and 60% of the new construction.

“If they would even allow that (with levy limits), I could live with that,” Grams said. 

At some point, Grams said, the city may have to consider a referendum to increase its levy beyond the state-imposed limits.

“We’ve been fortunate we’ve had a lot of growth here,” he said, noting that is one of the few ways communities can increase their budget.

That said, the 2020 budget is “about the toughest budget I’ve dealt with,” Grams said.



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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