Bump in wastewater utility rates put on back burner temporarily

By Dave Fidlin

Correspondent

After several months of review and deliberation, city officials have minted Whitewater’s 2015 budget, which totals $9.47 million and results in a nearly 1-percent increase in property taxes.

The Common Council on Nov. 18 adopted the budget, which includes a plan to levy property owners $3.07 million in the upcoming year. The figure accounts for general operations, as well as payments toward debt.

City Manager Cameron Clapper presented the council with a draft version of the budget in early October. In the past six weeks, elected officials conducted a department-by-department review at council meetings.

While the shell of the document remains in tact, there have been a few changes — the most notable being the cessation of city funds toward Janesville Transit System’s Janesville-Milton-Whitewater Express Bus Service, formerly known as the Innovation Express.

Clapper had initially earmarked $15,543 in city contributions toward the mass transit system. But the council voted Nov. 6 to nix the funding, citing declining ridership. The council’s decision has resulted in uncertainty in the scope of the service. The councils overseeing the cities of Janesville and Milton have pledged funds in 2015.

The money that had been set aside for the Express service remains in the general operating budget, but has since been shifted toward a line item described as “contingencies.”

Other changes to the budget, following the initial October draft version, have included minor reductions in professional consulting services, a grant for local organization Downtown Whitewater and the Community Development Authority’s (CDA) marketing initiatives.

At the same time, funding has been increased on a few line items, including wages toward rescue and ambulance personnel.

According to city officials, the projected tax rate for the Walworth County portion of the city is $5.65 per $1,000 of assessed value, while the sliver of the city within Jefferson County is $5.73 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Independent of the general operating budget, the council also took action on budgets for the three city utility budgets: wastewater ($3.36 million), water ($2.42 million) and storm water ($2.25 million).

The wastewater utility budget has been the subject of scrutiny in recent years as city officials ramp up for an extensive upgrade to the existing facility in 2015. The existing infrastructure has been deemed obsolete.

“Rate increases are directly related to the sorely needed facility upgrade,” Clapper said.

The city manager had proposed including a 15-percent rate increase provision in the wastewater utility budget, but the council adopted a plan to keep rates status quo — at least for the time being — as a hired consultant completes a rate study. The rate increase will be revisited at a later date.

The resolution adopted last week by the council also recognizes budgets for the city’s six active tax incremental financing (TIF) districts. Together, the funds for the districts total $1.81 million.

TIF is a mechanism that allows municipalities to borrow money for infrastructure improvements. The increased property tax revenue from the improved land is then diverted from the tax rolls to pay off the loan.

 

 
 

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