Oconto Falls City Council passes 2018 spending plan

Aldermen frustrated by state-imposed levy limits
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Oconto Falls City Hall (Times Herald photo by Warren Bluhm)

The Oconto Falls City Council on Thursday passed a 2018 budget that includes $2.35 million in general fund expenditures.

The city intends to fund three projects with long-term debt — a reconstruction of Adams Street for $400,000, sidewalk improvements for $50,000 and a new tractor for $36,000.

Police Chief Brad Olsen told the council that he received final notification that a grant that would have funded a new officer did not come through.

The Community Oriented Policing Services program through the U.S. Department of Justice only was able to fund about 16 percent of the grant applications this year, Olsen said.

“A lot of it is going to big-city departments right now,” he said.

The budget does include funds to promote an officer to an investigator position. The city’s personnel committee plans to discuss department staffing early in the new year in an attempt to find Olsen more help.

Council members expressed frustration over state-imposed levy limits, which prohibit municipalities from raising property taxes beyond the value of any new construction without going to referendum. This year, the city was restricted to a 0.9 percent increase, slightly more than $10,000 over last year.

“There’s not enough money to do what we need to do,” Alderman Mathew McDermid said.

Mayor Brad Rice said the city’s financial adviser warned that a referendum asking to exceed the levy limit would send a signal that the city can’t manage its finances well.

“Schools can say that they’re doing it for the benefit of the kids,” Rice said.

“You’re still doing it for the benefit of the citizens,” Alderman Jay Kostreva countered.

McDermid pointed out that no one came to comment at the annual budget hearing that preceded the council meeting. The city also received no written remarks about the budget, which was available for review the second half of November with a summary published in the Times Herald.

“I don’t see a huge crowd here wondering how we’re managing the money,” McDermid said, indicating the audience made up of two people – a reporter and a man who came to discuss another agenda item. “Obviously, they don’t question it that much, because they’re never here.”