A majority of Greenfield alderpersons voted to raise the property tax levy above what Mayor Michael Neitzke proposed in his 2013 budget Tuesday.
Neitzke’s budget called for a property tax levy of $21,834,243, but an amendment by Alderperson Tom Pietrowski tacked on an additional $161,204, raising the tax levy 2.74 percent compared to 2012.
Neitzke’s proposal included a 1.98 percent levy increase over 2012, largely to pay off debt.
Alderpersons Karl Kastner and Shirley Saryan backed Pietrowski’s amendment, which called for the additional $161,204 to go to the general fund to pay for public safety while shifting state transportation aids from the general fund to capital projects such as roads.
Alderpersons Linda Lubotsky and Pam Akers voted against Pietrowski’s amendment.
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“Next year (2014) is going to be tough one,” Pietrowski said. “Our operational costs are very tenuous, as the mayor stated. Departments are going to suffer potentially next year if we don’t maintain the dollar value this year.”
Levied to the max
The 2013 tax levy of $21,995,467 is the maximum the city was permitted to levy.
“Once you give up levy, you lose it forever,” Neitzke said. “I could in this budget have a zero-percent levy increase. I could do that. My fear is, if that is done, in 2014 when I expect there to be further cuts in the form of revenue to the city from the state, those (decreased) revenues will cause significant turmoil within the city.”
Neitzke said if more cuts were made by the state in 2013, the $161,000 in tax levy his budget would have left on the table theoretically could have resulted in the loss of two police officers or two fire fighters in 2014. Leaving more levy dollars on the table could have resulted in even more substantial staff or service reductions in 2014, he said.
“Do I want to seem the levy increase? As a taxpayer, I don’t want to see it,” Neitzke said. “But as the administrator of the city, you need to do it to make sure some of the revenue streams continue to flow to make sure that things that are essential and nonessential in 2014 can make it through that rough water, because there will be rough water.”
Neitzke said this year’s budget does not call for a decrease in any city services, essential or nonessential, nor did it require any staff reductions from 2012. Yet the city’s expenditures will drop 5.279 percent from $48.9 million in 2012 to $46.3 million in 2013.
Departments make sacrifices
Individual department heads were asked to submit a zero-growth budget for 2013, which was difficult, if not impossible for some of the smaller departments that have been cut in recent years.
Police Chief Brad Wentlandt, whose department accounts for more of the city’s budget than any other, said maintaining a flat budget was difficult because of contractual raises scheduled for 2013 as well as increases in health insurance costs.
But the department restructured capital equipment purchases including delaying the purchases of SWAT rifles, pistols and re-scheduling the digital upgrade to the city-wide radio system.
Those moves saved more than $300,000, Wentlandt said, which directly offset the increases in salary and health insurance costs.
The department also increased its Community Service Officer staffing and will have CSOs on the streets from 8 a.m. to midnight in 2013.