City taxes will increase $31 on average Sun Prairie home in the 2021 mayor’s budget, that funds current city services, adds a police officer, but holds back on other new initiatives during an economy rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The proposed $104.70 million city budget would boost taxes 1.5 percent on the average value home ($299,400) in the city.

Esser calls it a fair budget that provides services Sun Prairie residents have come to expect but foresees difficult economic times over the next few years because of COVID-19.

“It is a good budget,” Esser said. “It addresses needs in the city that cannot wait, while not putting an undue burden on the taxpayers.”

Esser presented the 2021 city budget from his home during the virtual Oct. 13 Committee of the Whole meeting, as city officials following public health recommendations to avoid indoor gatherings that could spread the virus.

Previous city budgets have increased taxes 3-5 percent on an average home. Esser called the 1.5 percent tax increase “modest” compared with previous increases and acknowledged the economic pain some residents are experiencing during the pandemic with job loss and cut hours. The city unemployment rate is 6 percent, an uptick from 2.7 percent city officials reported in 2019.

The Sun Prairie School District and Dane County are proposing tax increases for 2021.

City alder Al Guyant said Tuesday, after reviewing the mayor’s proposed city budget, that he wanted to get it down to a zero-tax increase but that was proving to be difficult. The city estimates $363,000 less revenue if there was no tax levy increase for 2021.

Esser introduced the 2021 city budget to city alders Tuesday as they get set to recommend a final budget for a vote at city council.

Esser said the proposed city budget emphasizes human services, sustainability initiatives and city services.

A new police officer will be added under the proposed 2021 budget, a request for second officer didn’t make it into the mayor’s budget.

There are $129,283 of new initiatives proposed, including a buyer/sustainability coordinator, a position that city officials said could implement cost-saving green energy strategies and bring in grant money.

Two police vehicles, Sheehan Park scoreboards and emergency vehicle IT equipment are also in the proposed budget. A request for a third ambulance didn’t make it into the mayor’s budget. A new passport service at city hall, that would bring in revenue, is proposed in the 2021 city budget.

A cost-of-living increase for non-union city employees is the only cut under the proposed 2021 city budget, City Administrator Aaron Oppenheimer said. Annual step wage increases for city employees remain in the budget.

Esser held back from giving elected officials a raise in the 2021 budget, something that he usually proposes to attract people to run for elected office. Election workers will get a bump in pay under the proposed 2021 city budget.

Sun Prairie EMS employees will get wage increases as part of the union contract. Oppenheimer said contract negotiations are ongoing with police, but a raise is expected.

“These are the people who have looked out of us over months of the COVID-19 pandemic and now it is our time to look out for them,” Esser said.

The city continues funding of Sun Prairie Community Schools, Neighborhood Navigators and other non-profit organizations that are seeing higher demand from residents needing help during COVID-19.

Oppenheimer said the 2020 city finances are in a good position because the city didn’t fill some open staff positions and froze spending to prepare for the potential revenue loss in the COVID-19 economy. But the city fared better than expected, Oppenheimer said, and was able to come out ahead for 2020.

Oppenheimer said the city anticipated getting requests from non-profits that have seen more demand for services during the pandemic. Colonial Club and Sunshine Place have asked the city for additional funding for 2020/2021. Oppenheimer told city alders on Tuesday that funding could come from the 2019 cost savings if they wanted to approve the requests.

The proposed 2021 city budget meets expenditure restraint limits, qualifying the city for a $500,000 grant payment in 2022.

Alders will take up the 2021 budget at the Tuesday, Oct. 20 Committee of the Whole meeting. A public hearing on the city budget is scheduled for Nov. 10.

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