The conundrum experienced by the Sun Prairie City Council continues.

City staff last week gave two potential projects—the $17.5 million Sun Prairie Public Library and the $19.5 million public works campus—tied ratings for community impact.

After debating both projects during the 2020 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) discussions last fall, alders asked staff to review both proposals and rank them along with other major projects on the city’s 15-year horizon.

The ranking found that the library expansion and the public works campus both scored a 90.

The rankings were based on health and safety impact, contractual or legal requirements, core governmental service, population impact, existing facility, operational budget impact and uncertainty of information supplied.

Two other future projects were also part of the rankings.

The Family Aquatic Center renovation proposals ranked 70 or less. City staff reported that attendance has declined at the aging facility during the past few years and that renovations are needed to replace aging equipment and facilities and make it compatible with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. Renovation proposals range from $5.5 million to $21 million.

A third EMS and fire station project ranked 74. City staff said that project, estimated to cost between $6-7.5 million, maybe farther out than 10 years with uncertainty about location, staffing and city growth.

City staff reported the rankings to a joint meeting of the Public Works Committee and the Finance Committee on Tuesday, Jan. 14.

The public works campus was ranked as having a higher health and safety impact and providing core government services in the city compared with the library.

But the library’s existing facility and its contractual obligation to the Dane County Library Service to increase its collection size as the city grows, gave it a boost to bring it to an equal rating with the public works campus.

The staff forecast that one building project could begin in 2024 and one building project could begin in 2028 without a reduction in project scope. That would require a 3 percent annual tax increase on the average city homeowner.

City Administrator Aaron Oppenheimer said the city used conservative estimates for a 1.33 percent increase in new construction and 0 percent tax appreciation. The financial forecast also keeps below a 1.75 direct debt ratio, and below a 27.5 percent ratio of debt levy to the total levy.

Oppenheimer said the financial forecast also allowed for the city’s cost-to-continue budget and some room for new budget initiatives.

Joint Committee members now want the city to recalculate the financial forecast using a 2.5 percent tax increase, instead of a 3 percent. Alders said they were concerned about the tax increase impact.

District 4 Alder Al Guyant said city residents can’t afford a 3 percent city tax increase while school taxes are going up more than that.

“We are at a political tipping point,” Guyant said at the Jan. 14 meeting. “The shock of the recent tax bills is strong and long-lasting. If the council approves too much CIP debt and taxes exceed 2 percent, most of us will be voted out of office in the next few years.”

The vote for the 2.5 percent tax recalculation was unanimous, with Council President Bill Connors giving the final word: “We need to make something smaller or throw something out.”

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