BURLINGTON — Reducing a negative fund balance, improving a major city thoroughfare and funding a couple of city special events have been addressed as Burlington aldermen continue budget deliberations for 2019.
The council held three budget hearings, on Oct. 10, Oct. 17 and Oct. 23 at the Department of Public Works building, to hear from department heads and hash out the details of the proposed budget.
The city has not yet released its proposed tax levy or tax rate for 2019, but City Administrator Carina Walters and Finance Director Steve DeQuaker said those should be available soon after the state releases its official assessments for manufacturers.
A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 7 at the council chambers at the Burlington Police Department, 224 E. Jefferson St. The final vote on the budget is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 20 at the Police Department.
One of highlights city staff brought to the council included $1.1 million budgeted to clear out a negative balance on the city’s capital fund.
Walters said the balance was in place before she came on board and the council has discussed closing the balance for three years.
The proposed budget also sets aside $10,000 to go into the city’s facade grant program, designed to improve the exterior appearances of Downtown businesses. In 2018, the city provided $50,000 and only $4,000 had been used.
Alderman Susan Kott, who sits on the Historic Preservation Commission which oversees the fund, said that some business owners’ applications had been delayed and were pending approval. Assistant City Administrator Megan Watkins confirmed that approximately $19,000 in grant monies were pending application approval.
The council decided to allocate $30,000 to the fund.
The budget early on included $717,232 for road projects and the council has since approved funding for an additional $464,210 for road projects.
One of the largest road projects planned would be on Milwaukee Avenue from Lewis Street to State Street, then continuing on State Street to North Elmwood Avenue. Public Works Director Peter Riggs said the total distance is approximately two-thirds of a mile.
In addition to paving, Riggs said the project will include 500 feet of sanitary sewer replacement and intermittent repair of curbs and sidewalks.
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Mayor Jeannie Hefty had asked that the council consider adding a study of the Milwaukee, McHenry, State and Jefferson street triangle, where the former B.J. Wentker’s restaurant is located.
Hefty was not at the meeting on Oct. 23 but told Walters that she has heard from constituents who said they were concerned about safety at that intersection. After some discussion, the council decided against funding the study.
Funding for public events
The council also discussed the question of when the city should provide financial support to events that benefit the whole community. The issue came up as aldermen considered requests for funds from the organizers of the Tall Tales Music Festival and Burlington Farmer’s Market.
Tall Tales made a request for $10,000. Kott said that right before the festival started this year, funds were tight and the organizers were hoping the money from the city would ensure they could pay all their musicians on time and possibly hire a well-known headliner for the festival in 2019.
The Burlington Farmer’s Market, which received $10,000 from the city for years, made a request for $12,500 in 2019 and $15,000 for 2020.
Alderman Tom Preusker and many others are concerned that if the city doesn’t create a system for deciding which events will receive funds and how much, the demands will grow.
“We can’t support everything and it can’t keep growing,” said Preusker. “There are a lot of things that compete for people’s time.”
Alderman Jon Schultz asked whether these events could be funded using the room tax hotels collect since they bring people to the city.
DeQuaker said so far in 2018 the city has collected approximately $104,000 in room taxes. Of that amount, $36,000 went to Real Racine, the county’s tourism promotion agency, $36,000 went to the Burlington Area Chamber of Commerce and the remaining $32,000 went into the city’s general fund.
Preusker suggested the city look into agreements with online hospitality platforms such as Airbnb to have them collect room tax as well.
Some council members questioned whether the city is getting a return on its investment to Real Racine and the chamber. They did not decide to take any action at that time but agreed they wanted to meet with the chamber to discuss their concerns.
In the end, the council decided to provide $5,000 to Tall Tales and $10,000 to the Farmer’s Market.