Last month in preparation for the 2020 budget being presented, city officials laid down the facts for aldermen letting them know in advance that the city will need to face difficult financial decisions ahead.
In 2020, the Wisconsin retirement system is raising the employer contribution rates from 6.55% to 6.75% for general employees, from 11.72% to 12.25% for police and from 16.12% to 16.85% for fire.
In addition, the city is anticipating health insurance costs will go up.
Those are realities and at the same time, the city’s tax base is not growing as much as other cities.
One solution City Administrator Jim Palenick suggested is a change in the health care plan to a higher deductible with health care savings accounts so employees will have to cover more of their health care costs.
No one wants to have to raise health care costs for employees. But at the same time, if they are not raised, it would mean raising the taxes for residents, who have already been burdened with the third-highest tax rate in the state, according to a study by the Wisconsin Policy Forum.
And in past years, the residents and businesses had to pay what was the second-highest property tax rate in the state in 2017 and first-highest rate in the state in 2016.
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Residents and business owners should not have to shoulder that burden ever again.
That is where the tough decisions come in.
The city did throw out the idea of creating a county sales tax to help pay for some services such as busing, the zoo and the library.
But that is not likely to happen in the foreseeable future. County spokesperson M.T. Boyle said, “The County Executive (Jonathan Delagrave) has no plans to propose one.”
In explaining the budget, Palenick said the city is limited in what it can do.
He braced the aldermen to prepare for difficult decisions, yet, at the same time said he didn’t see the most painful decisions — cutting or privatizing city services — coming up in 2020.
But both of those areas — cuts and privatizing — should be looked at when aldermen examine the budget.
Contracting with an outside agency for some services could be a good thing for the city and is an option worth exploring. Likewise, all city programs and new staff should be discussed. It’s part of making the tough decisions.