The Village of DeForest’s 2020 budget is beginning to come into focus.
Administrator Steve Fahlgren expects a 3.77 percent increase in the property tax levy, with a drop in the mill rate, although nothing has been finalized.
After a revaluation in the village, residents’ properties were increased in valuation by an average of 12.37 percent, according to Fahlgren.
“That’s going to force the tax rate down, but where the rubber hits the road is the tax bill,” said Fahlgren, while providing an update on the budget at village board’s committee of the whole meeting Tuesday, Sept. 17.
Fahlgren explained how village officials look at an average sized home in the village and try to keep everything relative to that. With the 12.37 hike in valuation, Fahlgren said a $220,000 is now worth $263,000.
Looking at projected expenditures, Fahlgren informed board members that an increase of just under 3 percent, or $220,000, is anticipated. Fahlgren said that DeForest Police Chief James Olson was able to find a couple thousand in savings prior to the meeting to help keep that figure less than 3 percent.
“So, we’re under 3, but that is totally up to you folks where you want this to be,” said Fahlgren.
Trustee Abigail Lowery said she would like to see it trimmed to 2.5 percent.
“I’m more coming from perspective of how many people heard last few months or year who are very concerned about property taxes, and I know it’s not just village, but I feel like I need to advocate for that in honor of the feedback I’ve gotten,” said Lowery.
Fahlgren asked if there were any particular areas where cuts were possible. Lowery didn’t name any, preferring that department heads go through their proposed budgets with a fine-tooth comb to glean more savings.
Trustee Jane Cahill Wolfgram figured those department heads had already cut as much as they could.
“While it may sound like a good exercise, I would trust they’ve already have gone through their budgets and have been relatively careful,” said Cahill Wolfgram. “Think product brought is their best guess.”
Village President Judd Blau asked, “What can we do away with?” Blau said that in the past Fahlgren and village department heads have done a good job of not asking for too much without giving the reasons behind such requests.
Blau also talked about how state expenditure restraints and levy limits restrict what the village can do financially and that cuts made now could negatively impact the municipality in the future.
“Whenever we don’t maximize it, it’s a short-term decision but it has long-term ramifications, because you can never make up that extra $100,000 we’re leaving on the table this year or $150,000,” said Blau.
Blau explained how that lost funding will continue to compound, hamstringing future village boards who can’t find the money to maintain or improve all the trails and roads past boards created.
Part of Fahlgren’s report dealt with the village’s growth, as DeForest – Dane County’s fastest-growing community – has seen a 6.56 percent in net new construction. That allows DeForest $382,214 in additional levy amounts.
Fahlgreen also gave estimates for the village’s expenditure restraint program limits. He anticipates DeForest’s allowable increase to be 4.2 percent, after last year’s figure of 4.442 percent.
“So they take our net new growth, then they take 60 percent of that,” said Fahlgren. “Then they add some inflationary aspect of that, so even if you can levy for it, you can’t really spend it budgetarily. Again, that program was based purely on budget, not on reality, so there’s ways we can work around or work that out.”
Fahlgren expects revenues to increase a little. The interest the village receives on its investments is going up to $125,000-$127,000.
“We were at half percent for years,” said Fahlgren. “You double that or triple that, it comes up quick. We don’t know what they’re talking about with prime, if they’re going to drop that and how it’s going to affect things.”
There are some big drops in the village’s debt service.
“You’ll see big negatives here, because we had called those 2010 debts that we called this year,” said Fahlgren. “That will not happen in 2020.”
Fahlgren told trustees to expect an increase in debt service levy of $80,000. Fahlgren said that was not significant with the amount of debt service the village has.
Fahlgren also said sinking funds will not be applied in 2020.
“We’ve done that over the past just to balance things out, I don’t see a need for it right now,” said Fahlgren.
As of yet, the village does not know what it will receive from the state in transportation aid.
“I am saying that we continue to add roads, and I can look at that six-year rolling average, and I mean, we’re in $600,000 of what we actually get,” said Fahlgren. “We put some of that in capital projects. We put some of that in debt service I believe, so the years that we start dropping off of spending money in (Tax Incremental Districts) TIDs, it doesn’t have a negative impact on our taxes in our general fund. So, I was very conservative in thinking with that rolling average, we should be able to recognize a little bit more revenue that will offset some of our increases in our public works street projects.”
Fahlgren also talked about adding staff, including the replacement of a part-time staff person at the village office’s front desk.
Also, Chief Olson is asking to add another officer in 2020, who would start July 1. Fahlgren said the cost of that would be $45,000 in salary, plus another $5,000 in gear. Olson said the department is at its current limit, although one officer is in field training, meaning he must ride along with another officer. Olson said that takes away from extra patrols.
“Currently have 11 police patrol officers that go out respond to calls for service,” said Olson. “With the size of village growth – anticipated business growth and businesses already growing here – I think it’s incredibly important that we protect them and keep ourselves in a good, stable position.”
Getting a 12th officer at 50 percent staffing for 2020 would put DeForest “at pretty much the national average, because we work 365 days a year,” said Olson. “Fifty percent is the minimum staffing requirement. That puts six squads on the street per day. Right now it’s five.”
Olson said he is reevaluating start times for officers. Some of the data he’s seen recently suggests another officer is necessary. Olson said it was “incredibly telling” that for July, there was only one day when the department took less than 60 calls. That was a Sunday, and it was 58.
“Right now, we’re on pace to set records, over 8,000 calls for service – now that’s calls for service – traffic stops, crashes … it’s not 8,000 responses to different things, but it’s a whole conglomeration,” said Olson.
After learning more Tuesday night about urban rabbit keeping and the educational aspects of it for kids, the DeForest Village Board put off voting on a proposed ordinance on restricting the keeping of small mammals in residential areas.
“For me, tonight, on this issue, I’m not ready to say whether we should limit the amount of rabbits to four or six,” said Trustee Jeff Miller. “I’d like to take a step back and engage others. See what other communities have done.”
In light of what was revealed in a two-hour debate, Miller asked whether they should be regulating animals or the structures they’re kept in.
The ordinance proposal called for limiting the amount of small mammals, including rabbits, that could be kept to four per household.
The board voted unanimously to table the matter until its second meeting in January.