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Fire Station 5

The Racine Fire Department’s Fire Station 5, 2430 Blaine Ave., on Wednesday, October 31, 2012. / Gregory Shaver gregory.shaver@journaltimes.com

RACINE — A previously imperiled fire station will stay open and hours at two community centers will remain the same under a final 2013 spending plan approved by the City Council Tuesday night. 

After weeks of budget presentations and hours of discussions, aldermen were able to reach a number of agreements last week, transferring funds to struggling departments in an effort to ward off cuts. In addition to coming up with a plan to keep Fire Station 5, 2430 Blaine Ave., open, aldermen found dollars for Tyler-Domer and Humble Park community centers.

The new budget still includes a variety of fee increases, however. A proposal to increase recycling fees from $11 to $26 a year to pay for operations was modified last week, but still remains. The administration had initially proposed a per-household charge, but aldermen voted to set the fee at $21.72 per cart, meaning those with multiple carts will pay more, while those with just one cart will pay less.

Just before taking their final vote, several aldermen remarked that while the budget process had been a hard slog they were thankful for the hard work shown by their fellow aldermen and city staff.

“I will thank everyone who participated in the process; 2014 won’t be any easier, as we all know, “ Alderman Q. A. Shakoor II, said.

Fourteen of the council’s 15 members were present for the vote at City Hall, 730 Washington Ave. Aldermen Keith Fair, Melissa Kaprelian-Becker, Mike Shields and Sandy Weidner voted against the final spending plan. Alderman Molly Hall was excused and not present.

Weidner said her primary concerns with the budget were the increased fees and borrowing. In addition to the recycling fee, which she called a “Trojan horse,” she also mentioned increases to building permit fees.

“Two years ago... we believed that we were implementing a fee to pay for recycling carts. That was changed in this budget. It is now a fee for service,” she said. “We are going to nickel and dime our constituents to the point where we are literally putting a rope around their throats.”

Estimated tax impact

The city’s property tax levy for next year will be roughly $50 million — about a 6 percent increase over last year’s levy of $47.2 million. Most of that increase will go toward debt service, which pays for ongoing capital projects and city debt from previous years.

If they city’s total assessed value changes little from 2011, a homeowner with a $100,000 house would see his or her city taxes increase by $72.59 a year, Friedel said.

The city won’t be able to fully project what the tax rate will be until the state releases its total valuation for all of the property in Racine sometime next month, he said.

When budget planning began this summer, the city was facing a $4 million deficit for 2013. To help fill that hole, the administration proposed a number of fixes, including increased employee health care contributions and a proposal to borrow $1.5 million to pay for things like police cars. To come up with the rest of the $2 million, they asked department heads to reduce their budgets. Each department was given a target based on the percentage of the tax levy they receive, Friedel said.

The budget is based around the assumption that votes taken by aldermen earlier this year to rescind prospective 2013-14 union contracts and increase health care premiums for those union members will be upheld in court.

The city is currently facing a lawsuit brought by the three of the four unions affected by those votes. A Racine County Circuit Judge Gerald Ptacek is expected to issue a ruling in the case sometime before mid-February.

In the event it loses the suit, the city has earmarked $1.96 million in contingency funds to honor the wage and benefit agreements in the contracts.

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Cara Spoto covers the school beat for The Journal Times.

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