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City facing budget deficit head on


Departments told to cut



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October 13, 2010 | 09:19 AM
The city of Lake Geneva's 2011 budget situation is no different than most other communities, the state and the federal government — revenues are down and expenses are on the rise.

With just weeks before adopting the 2011 budget, the city's deficit is nearly $550,000. That's why council members sent the city's department heads back to the drawing board to reduce their expenses in an effort to lower the deficit.

"The overall picture is a little gruesome here," Finance, License and Regulation Committee Chairman Todd Krause said last week.

Last Thursday night, the City Council went through some budget details, but mostly talked in generalities about the need to lower the deficit to ensure the least amount of impact to the taxpayers.

According to the preliminary budget numbers, revenues are down 4 percent from 2010, to $7.45 million, while expenditures are up 3.4 percent to $7.94 million.

That's why aldermen sent department heads back with a goal to drop expenses down to 2010 budget levels and cut an additional 1 percent.

The new numbers are expected to be submitted to City Administrator Dennis Jordan by Monday, Oct. 18. A meeting has been set for Tuesday, Oct. 19 from 6 to 8 p.m. in the City Hall Council chambers.

On Monday, Krause said the goal is to work toward not having to raise taxes. He said he believes that can be accomplished.

"There are some other creative things we can do," Krause said. "We are being conscientious about every line item."

But, following last week's meeting, some department heads said that request may be difficult to accomplish without the possibility of cuts in some city services.

Public Works Director Dan Winkler said he will do the best he can to abide by the council's wishes and lower his budget.

On Monday night, he said he's still working on his budget numbers. He suggested there may be changes in some operations for the department.

He said some of the increasing costs are for items such as electricity which cannot be controlled and that has added to the 2011 budget. There also are continued concerns about the possibility of rising fuel costs.

On Tuesday, Police and Fire Commission President Scott Storms was adamant that the budgets for the city's Police Department and Fire Department were at the lowest level they could be.

Storms said the Fire Department budget "cannot go down 1 percent."

"There is no finite Fire Department budget," Storms said. "It is based on fire calls in a year and there is no way to accurately budget the Fire Department."

Police expenses are the largest department item in the entire city's budget at more than $2.5 million. The Police Department's proposed 2011 budget increased 1.69 percent over 2010.

Storms said the departments can't control costs for maintenance, fuel and injuries. He said the Fire Department's paid-on-premises program cost the city $5,000 this year.

"There is no fluff," Storms said about the fire and police budgets.

He said any increases are mainly due to contractual obligations the City Council negotiated and agreed to.

"We have held the line and cut everything we can," he said.

Storms said the Police and Fire Commission will meet on Oct. 19 just before the council meets about the budget. He said there are some options to cut the summer reserve police officers and the 400 hours scheduled for police for events such as Venetian Festival.

"The city is so into revenues," Storms said. "The Fire and Police departments are not into revenues, we are into safety and protecting the residents of Lake Geneva."

Wages for nearly all departments were frozen again, many for the second straight year. Aldermen agreed the last thing they want to do is cut city staff or require employee furloughs.

"Our intent is to do everything in our power not to lay people off," Krause said. "We need to trim it to where it is acceptable to the public. We hope to not lay off people — that's the last resort."

Alderman Tom Hartz said there are difficult decisions that must be made.

"We face the taxpayers or the staff," Hartz said. "None of this is easy."

Alderwoman Mary Jo Fesenmaier suggested she was willing to take a $500 pay cut as an alderman and said small amounts of cuts will add up if enough lines are found. Alderman Bill Mott suggested the City Council take a close look at its own budget, too.

But, aldermen also agreed it was best to let department heads cut their own budgets.

"We need to send this back to the department heads," Krause said. "We need to turn this around quick, by the end of next week. We'll see if they can make some magic."

Krause said if expenses are kept to the same level as 2010, the budget would still have a deficit of $260,000. Revenues are down because of reduced room taxes collected as well as investment interest earnings and other expected decreases because of the struggling economy.

On Monday night, during the city's Finance, License and Regulation Committee, former aldermanic candidate Terry O'Neill suggested the city cannot continue to "drain" the city's accounts to pay for shortfalls.

"When I ran for alderman, I saw a bleak future for the city and I don't see that changing," O'Neill said.

He suggested every department decrease its budget by 10 percent, including the city's Fire and Police departments.

"We need to balance and renew the city's' depleted accounts," he said. "Ending this 8-year spending spree will not be easy. But, if we don't, it will push Lake Geneva to the financial cliff."

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