I would like to address the inaccuracies and misconceptions included in former Alder Jim Hoelzel’s letter to the editor last week.
The primary reason Monona has the amount of debt we have is because about half of our city borrowing is tied up in Tax Incremental Financing or TIF debt. Being a landlocked community, the only way we can increase our tax base and bring in more tax revenue is through re-development of existing properties. Redevelopment can be very complicated and expensive. For example, among other things, the Riverfront redevelopment project involved moving a 5 foot diameter MMSD sewer pipe, cleaning up a brown field site and tearing down and properly disposing of buildings laden with asbestos. All of those added large additional costs to the project. In a situation like that, we often use Tax Incremental borrowing to set up a site that can then be redeveloped.
The payments on TIF debt are covered by the increased taxes generated when a development project is completed. So the increased taxes generated by the Riverfront project each year will go to pay off the funds the city borrowed to make the project come together. The average residential taxpayer will not be making those payments through their taxes, the developer/owner of the property will. Eventually when that debt is paid off, the city will realize an overall increase in the collected tax revenue for that redeveloped property.
Another large portion of our debt is used for city operating purposes. We borrow to purchase fire trucks and leaf collection machines, repair roads and replace inefficient HVAC systems. Those are all used on the operating side of the city budget. Under state law, municipalities have specific limitations on the amount of tax revenue that they are able to raise to cover operating and long-term capital expenses. Given that, we could never afford to pay for all of those expenses up front, just as the average person doesn’t normally pay cash for a new car. You borrow for it and pay it back over time.
That said, as Mayor, I have made a real effort to keep general obligation capital borrowing low. Departments have been required to submit very restrained capital budget proposals. We have also increased our debt payments and refinanced to pay off some of our debt more quickly.
Because we manage our debt and budgeting so well, Monona has a Standard & Poor’s AA+ bond rating which is the 2nd highest possible and the highest we can realistically achieve for a city our size. That rating is the reason we’re paying an interest rate of 1.18% on the latest city borrowing
It is completely false that the Council did not consider reducing funds for operating purposes in the 2021 budget. In 2020, the city lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in expected revenues due to Covid. I handled that in a variety of ways including imposing a partial hiring freeze and limiting hiring of seasonal summer staff. In addition, we used about $50,000 of our reserve to cover some of the deficit for 2020. That’s what a reserve is for!
We knew that something similar might happen in 2021 which is why my 2021 Operating Budget instructions asked city department heads to submit budgets with a zero percent (0%) expenditure increase for 2021. They had to cover fixed increases in items like utilities and health insurance with the same amount of money they had budgeted for 2020. That in turn meant they were making cuts to their budgets which were already very tight. Given all that, I’m proud that we were able to pass a 0% increase in the operating budget without having to lay off any of what is already a very small city staff for a city our size.
I’d also like to address the misconception that the city took a quarter of a million dollars from our reserve fund to balance the 2020 budget. That’s simply not true. What really happened is that once city staff and I put together a budget with a 0% increase in expenditures, we took $250,000 from reserves to increase our debt payments for 2021. That in turn lowered the mill rate, the amount properties are taxed per $1,000 of value and taxes overall by about 2% in the 2021 budget. If anyone’s taxes increased for 2021, it’s because their property value increased not because the city wasn’t budgeting wisely.
Contrary to what’s being said, Monona has a very healthy reserve fund. City policy dictates a reserve of between 15-20% of the annual budget. We haven’t gone below 20% in the time I’ve been Mayor. Currently our reserve is at about 23% and that’s after applying $250,000 to the 2021 budget.
And finally, please keep in mind that Monona’s share of local property tax bills is about 28%. My property tax bill was $6,820.74. Of that, $2,200 went to the City of Monona; the remainder went to the Monona Grove School District, Madison College and Dane County. Given all the services Monona provides to our residents including police, fire, parks, recreation, pool, library, senior center, street plowing, leaf pick up…I think that’s a pretty good deal!
Monona Mayor Mary
At a gathering last month at our condominium and again last week at a virtual Meet and Greet chaired by Monona mayoral candidate Kristie Goforth, we were introduced to two individuals running for the Monona City Council. Patrick DePula and Nadia Dominguez presented new visions for Monona, stressed judicious fiscal approaches, innovative business developments, transparency of city hall activity, and ideas for creating more diversity in our city.
We were very impressed with their energy, their humanity and their ideas to create a more vibrant Monona.
We enthusiastically endorse DePula and Dominguez for Monona City Council!
We strongly encourage everyone to tune in to the Monona candidate forum on Saturday, March 6. The mayor forum starts at 1 PM and is followed by the council candidate forum at 3 PM. It will be posted on YouTube so if you cannot watch at that time, you can watch it at your convenience.
Sharla and Ron Bilchik
As an informed member of our community I urge members of the School Board to support and engage in a more effective and collaborative effort with school faculty members and support staff to do what’s in the best interest of all parties in the district. School teaching and support staff are in the best position to help guide the re-opening efforts for in-classroom learning to be safe, effective and meaningful.
Everyone agrees that in-classroom learning needs to be available as quickly as feasible. Historically speaking the unique reputation of the McFarland School District has been a direct result of teacher empowerment, school staff engagement and of a strong collaborative partnership between the educators and school board. I encourage representatives from the teaching staff, support staff , and members of the School Board to simply sit down together to communicate and actively listen to each other in an open and positive manner without distractions. There is a win-win scenario to the re-opening of the school for in-classroom learning for all students, all parties just have to drop their biases and get down to work to create that win-win scenario that is reasonably within everyone’s reach.
Retired educator & former
School Board member
I am writing to ask you to join me in supporting Doug Wood for Monona Alder. In my eight years as mayor, I found Doug to be a person of strong principles who has always been more interested in getting things done for our community than in scoring political points.
One of accomplishments I take most pride in from my years as mayor is the improvement in the city’s financial health. We established a policy to increase the city’s rainy day fund because we were at risk of having our bond rating lowered which would have raised the interest rate on city debt. Doug was a strong city council partner in that multi-year effort. In the years since, the city bond rating instead of being lowered has gone to AA+, the highest possible rating for a city of our size. Doug has been vigilant in ensuring that the rainy day fund remained healthy and that vigilance has allowed us to make additional payments on the city’s debt. During the Covid crisis, that rainy day fund has been critical in maintaining city services.
Doug has been a leader in obtaining increased funding for our city parks, the library and streets – including his work to make sure those streets are safe for pedestrians and bicyclists. The skatepark would not have been built without Doug’s leadership. He has played a leading role in the city’s successful redevelopment projects in the Broadway corridor. Doug was also a leader in the acquisition of the San Damiano property, helping secure significant financial assistance from Dane County to turn this opportunity into a reality.
In these uncertain times, Doug Wood provides the experience and knowledge we need gained through years of service to Monona. Please join me in voting for Doug Wood for Monona Alder on April 6.
Former Monona Mayor
I want to take a moment and reach out to the community as we work through the COVID struggles, the increasing equity issues, the overwhelming challenges with back-to-school and the politics…
There are times when we think about an upcoming election and the importance of our vote – each and every one of us – and we have memories and thoughts about where we have been –
It was a fall evening and I couldn’t sleep – The shoreline and homes of Lake Monona and the Monona parks were steadily starting to submerge as lake levels continued to dramatically rise – Many Monona neighbors were running 10 to 20 sump pumps to keep their homes from taking in water –
It was one o’clock in the morning and the massive sound of the pumps stopped – and now I’m wide awake – and the community is trying to turn on lights and coming into the streets as the water starts to rise – and there are no lights, there is no electricity and there are no pumps running – I was desperate to try and help and I picked up the phone and called Kathy Thomas, my City Alderman – It was one o’clock in the morning and as I explained that we were starting to seriously flood – She said, “Come and get me.” Led by flashlights, I got to the car and drove to her home and she was coming out the door – and told me to drive her to City Hall, where she was in immediate contact with our City Administrator. They talked about the cause and working with MG & E and then she directed me to the location of the outage. She got out of the car and stayed on site for 4 hours talking with staff and the workers until electricity was re-established. This is the Alderperson she has been for all of us. She is there when you desperately need her, she is finding pathways and solutions to resolve major issues and works through the regular business with thoughtfulness and collaboration. I could tell stories for hours about her being there for us — not me, for us…. And now it is our opportunity to say thank-you and to bring her back for another two years. Thank you all for this wonderful community.
Community member and
Monona Grove School
Keep the city moving forward by reelecting Kathy Thomas. Kathy is by far Monona’s biggest champion! Her unfaltering work to keep our city up-to-date and relevant while paying attention to wasteful spending and unworkable ideas makes Kathy an invaluable member of our City Council. Kathy’s dedication and willingness to work with everyone, from our students to our seniors, means that she understands the full impact each decision makes on our community.We have known Kathy for years. She is honest, trustworthy, open-minded, and holds herself and those around her up to the highest standards. To quote Kathy, “What is right is right. Don’t let anyone compromise your values.” We admire and respect her and feel grateful knowing that Kathy Thomas is working hard for all of Monona. Below is a list of just a few of Kathy’s community work efforts: President of Monona Elementary PTO, Monona Youth Hockey Board of Directors, Community Festival Board Member and volunteer, Ladies Improvement Society, Monona Dream Park fundraiser and volunteer, Playtime Productions, Library Expansion Fundraising Committee, MG School District Business Services Committee, Monona 75th Anniversary Committee Chair, Monona Memorial Day Parade Committee, Monona Library Foundation, MG Education Foundation Board Member, President of Friends of Monona Senior Center. Quite impressive!!! It is no wonder why everyone is eager and willing to work with Kathy. Her knowledge and expertise are incomparable. Please join us in voting for Kathy Thomas for City Alderperson.
Andrew and Sandy
I have known Mary O’Connor for nearly 30 years. While others will enumerate her progressive accomplishments as mayor, I would like to mention the personal traits that underscore why we are lucky she is willing to continue to serve Monona.
First, Mary is one of the most hard-working and informed people I know. When it comes to leading a small city like Monona, the devil is indeed in the details. You can bet your bottom tax dollar that she will not hold a position on any topic without putting in the time to have a thorough understanding of the issues. I am always confident she has done the research and her decisions are fact-based.
Related, Mary is a progressive pragmatist. Her hopes and aspirations for our city are informed by realistic expectations of what is possible. She will always take incremental steps as we move toward a larger goal.
Mary also approaches her life and work with humility and respect for all of us. She listens more than she speaks. She is not someone who is simply holding her tongue until she can make her next point. Mary is also respected by our city workforce because she respects them. While mayoral and council leadership sets direction and policy, our city employees do the daily work. Mary holds our city workforce accountable while respecting that those who do the job, know the job.
We are lucky that Mary O’Connor seeks to continue her service to us as Monona’s mayor. I hope you will support her.