Jefferson Davis is a longtime resident of Menomonee Falls. He is the proud parent of two wonderful boys. He enjoys singing, volunteering, reading, gardening, politics, antiques, history, guitar, violin, piano, officiating, helping neighbors and yard work. He served as Village President of Menomonee Falls from 2003-05. He is a member of Northbrook Church and serves on the Advisory Council for the Salvation Army Rehabilitation Center. He is an independent registered representative practicing in the areas of insurance, investments and retirement.
2010 Village Budget Taxpayer Public Hearing Receives Little Notice
The Village Manager and Village Board are holding a Taxpayer Public Hearing on the 2010 Village Budget on Monday, November 30, 2009, 6:00 P.M. in the Village Hall Board Meeting Room.
There has been little or no coverage by the 4 local newspapers on the Annual Taxpayer Public Hearing for the 2010 Village Budget.
With a total budget of somewhere in the neighborhood of $30,000,000, the public should be notified as many times as possible and far enough in advance to give the public every opportunity to attend the public hearing to ask questions of the Village Manager and Village Board to find out what kind of tax and fee increases are in store along with the school district and State of Wisconsin increases that will appear on property tax bills in December.
6:00 P.M. on a Monday night is a very awkward time for a public hearing to be held as most people aren't even home from work yet and haven't even had time to eat supper with their families let alone head out for a village meeting at such an early time of the evening.
Village Public Hearings in the past were always held at 7:00 or 7:30 P.M. to accommodate taxpayers.
The Village had buried the November 30, 2009 Public Notice of the Meeting and the Budget Summary deep inside the bowels of the Village's Web site. Unless an individual knew exactly where to go to find the public hearing notice, there would be no way for them to find it on the Village's Web site. The notice has now been more prominently displayed since it was recently pointed out to the Village that it was very difficult to find any information.
The average taxpayer and probably over 99.9% of the Village's 32,647 population have no idea what is in the 2010 Village Budget and the effect it will have on their pocketbook.
This is sad and so unnecessary when so many alternatives are available to get this information out to the public unless of course the absence of ample notification for the public hearing was by design.
The Vanguard suggests the utilization of ample public hearing notifications through the use of the Cable Access Channel with pre-hearing interviews, mailing the notice with water bills, posting it on the Village's Web site where it can easily be seen, having a Village Newsletter on the Village's Web site, having press conferences and going directly to the press to get the information out to the taxpayers who pay the $30,000,000 bill.
An Open Letter to the Village Manger and Village Board About the 2010 Budget
Thank you for your service to the 32,647 residents and some 1,500 businesses that call Menomonee Falls home.
Your service and time are appreciated.
Please accept the congratulations, questions and suggestions of this letter in the spirit in which they are intended, which is to be supportive and helpful.
There are a lot of good things in this budget and the Village Manager is to be congratulated for his hard work and vision for our community under some very difficult circumstances.
This is a great improvement from the past, but much more work can and needs to be done.
Seeing that everyone on the Village Board, with the exception of Trustee Farrell, doesn't acknowledge or return email inquiries, The Vanguard is putting the concerns of the taxpayers in writing in hopes of making those concerns part of the permanent record because the Village Board recently adopted a "180 second" speaking policy for the Annual Taxpayer Public Hearing that prohibits any substantive comments or questions from being made by taxpayers on the $30,000,000 budget and policies.
Taxpayers were always given ample time in the past to ask questions or make comments about how their $30,000,000 was being spent and could stay at the podium as long as they needed to until they were completely satisfied.
For some reason the Village Board no longer abides by that long standing policy for Village Taxpayers.
Sounds a lot like the democrats in Congress on health care, global warming, union card check, stimulus wasteful spending, bank bailouts, etc. who want to jam through whatever they want without public input on how their money is being spent or how their policies with affect them.
The Good Things About the 2010 Village Budget
The Vanguard had a chance to view the 2010 Village Budget and made some good observations.
The Village Manager and Village Board are to be commended for the following budget policy decisions that are about to be made if the 2010 Village Budget is to be passed in its present form:
- In an undated memo from the Village Manager to the Village Board, it is stated that the 2010 General Fund Budget is reduced by $1,155,410 from 2009 spending levels. This is an excellent start and a definite step in the right direction. Who said government spending couldn't go down without a cut in services and programs?
- In the same memo, it is stated that the 2009 Budget will have a $375,000 deficit to be made up in 2010. It could have been a lot worse.
- The tax levy increase will be less than 2% or about $312,000. The average homeowner of a $150,000 home will see their village portion of their tax bill increase by $6.24 while the owner of a $250,000 home will see their tax bill increase by $10.40.
- Every homeowner will see their garbage tax increase to just under $100 per home up from the original $85 that was promised to be a temporary tax in 2006. The garbage tax is above and beyond the normal tax bill and was always included in the tax bill prior to 2005. The total garbage tax is about $1,200,000.
- The total number of village employees is reduced to 223 for 2010. That number was 253 in 2007, 239 in 2008 and 233 in 2009. This is another step in the right direction.
- There appears to be a lot of reorganization being done by the Village Manager. Change is good and the Village Manager is following through on a lot of his promises made to members of The Vanguard in 2007 when he said, "We have to live within our means."
- The Taxpayer's Surplus Account (a.k.a. Working Capital Fund Balance) will be at $8.109 million at the end of 2010. The Vanguard believes this is too high and unnecessary as it should be used instead for more tax relief for homeowners instead of interest income which is at an all time low and minimal. This amount also far exceeds what Moody's Rating Service in Chicago, professional bond rating agency hired by Village Taxpayers, states that it should be. Unlike Social Security and its supposed Trust Fund, the taxpayers of Menomonee Falls actually do have a surplus account of their money being held at Village Hall for over taxation. What should be done with the taxpayer's surplus is a policy question that will hopefully be debated in the future.
- This budget accomplishes many things without any cutbacks in services or programs.
- The village's assessed evaluation is $4,310,887,272 for 2009 which is admirable considering the severe downtown in the economy and property valuations.
Some Questions About the 2010 Village Budget to the Village Manager and Village Board
Because the Village Board will not allow for any substantive questions or comments at the Taxpayer Public Hearing, The Vanguard will pose the following questions in hopes of getting answers and to lower the tax burden for homeowners:
- What percentage will Village Employees be paying for their health care benefit premiums? Many government entities are asking government employees to pay more than 5-7% of their $1,500 monthly premiums. Some are asking as much as 15% from their employees for health care premiums which is still way below the private sector.
- Why isn't the Village asking union employees to take a pay freeze and furloughs like the Village of Germantown (http://www.germantownnow.com/news/70294382.html) and City of Milwaukee (http://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/60045712.html) are?
- Why isn't the Village Board implementing a tax levy freeze like Milwaukee County Executive Walker has done (http://maciverinstitute.com/2009/11/comparing-the-budgets-of-the-city-of-milwaukee-and-milwaukee-county.html)?
- Does this budget still have $120,000 in it for unused sick leave cash payouts for retirees?
- Does this budget include Health Savings Accounts (HSA's) for village employees that will substantially lower health care costs while maintaining great benefits?
- Does this budget eliminate the $100,000 contingency funds for the General and Capital Budgets?
- What is being done for the Main Street Project to recoup the $1.6 million that has been spent so far?
- The $50,000 in hotel taxes that was budgeted for 2009 will obviously not be collected and is not budgeted for 2010. How will this shortfall be made up and does that mean the Main Street hotel project is dead for now and the foreseeable future?
- How will the 2009 $375,000 deficit be made up in 2010? New taxes or using the Surplus Account?
- The Village Manager states in his memo to the Village Board for the 2010 Budget that there will be, "...little growth outside of TIF's and a significant decrease in permit revenue." How will the shortfall be made up?
- What is the $100,000 expenditure designated for landfill closing in the Fund Balance Account?
- Why is the non-profit taxpayer funded Falls Cable Access Corporation allowed to keep over $500,000 in surplus monies from the taxpayers instead of returning it to the Village Board as all other non-profit groups have to do in with other government entities? What do they get from the Village Board on an annual basis? Do they have to turn in their unused monies at the end of the year?
- What is the future of agreements with corporations like Time Warner?
- Why are the taxpayers charged $100 per home for garbage collection when Waste Management grosses over $13 billion a year and nets over $1.08 billion a year including the Menomonee Falls site (http://www.wm.com/wm/press/mediakit/WM_Corporate_Fact_Sheet.pdf)?
- Why isn't the Village Board asking Waste Management for selling rights for methane gas sales from the landfill to We Energies that provides energy to 15,000 area homes like many other corporations across America do (http://www.eco-structure.com/alternative-materials/its-a-gas.aspx and http://money.cnn.com/2008/04/30/news/economy/elkind_ftworth.fortune/index.htm)?
- Does the Village still allow double dipping contracts for Village Retirees who retire from the Village and are then hired back by the Village at basically the same position they just retired from?
- What is the total of Village Debt that is still being defeased? The total Village Debt Service is $98,780,188.
- How many more years will there be $95,000 annual payments made to the Sewer Utility for the unfunded $2 million Wisconsin Retirement System liability that was discovered and corrected in 2003?
- Will the Village ever qualify for the State's Expenditure Restraint Program again?
- What is the rationale behind renting fire hydrants at a cost of $1,665,000 from our own Water Utility by the PSC?
- The Chamber's subsidy has been reduced to $1,500. Why was it dropped from the previous year's amount of some $20,000?
- Why is there a transfer of $150,000 to the Solid Waste Collection Fund?
- Is the Village looking at buying dump trucks that may be used or a turned in lease at a substantially lower cost than buying a new one?
- How is the Village making up for the annual $600,000-$700,000 shortfall in bond payments for TID #5 that has $14.6 million in debt service remaining through 2018?
- How will the $3.5 million in tax breaks be made up for the new company locating in TID #5 that is already under water with its annual bond payments?
- Is the Village on target to make the final $26,000,000 in debt service payments through 2022 for the new library, village hall and police station without the taxpayers having to kick in and help out?
- Will the AT&T Franchise Fee remain constant at $25,000 or will it increase?
Some Suggestions for the Village Manager and Village Board to Cut the Property Tax Levy and Fees
Hopefully the Village Manager and Village Board will accept the following suggestions that will substantially reduce taxes and fees for Menomonee Falls taxpayers for 2010 and beyond.
The only reason for these suggestions not to be implemented would be out of fear that they might work and would actually cut the tax levy saving homeowners millions of dollars and giving them more money to keep in their pockets or to stimulate our local economy.
- Freeze all employee wages like the City of Milwaukee did for 2010 and 2011 (http://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/60045712.html) saving anywhere between $260,000-$390,000 in taxes depending on the projected size of the employee wage increases.
- Work with employees to implement Health Savings Accounts (HSA's) that will conservatively save anywhere from $500,000-$750,000 a year in taxes depending on the structure of the contract. Waukesha County, City of Brookfield and Community Memorial currently uses HSA's.
- Require Village Employees to pay at least 15% of their health care premium saving $150,000 or use HSA's at a lower cost.
- Restructure the unused sick leave cash payouts to retirees minimally saving $120,000 annually.
- Eliminate double dipping contracts for retirees saving $100,000-$125,000 initially.
- Eliminate the new garbage tax from Waste Management saving each homeowner $100 per home or $1.2 million collectively for our local economy on an annual basis.
- Use the Falls Cable Access Taxpayer Surplus Account for tax relief of $400,000-$500,000.
- Insist on renegotiating Waste Management's Contract to include a minimum residual of $100 per homeowner for selling rights of the methane gas from the landfill. An extra $1.2 million for our local economy on an annual basis.
- Offer a different health care plan for Village retirees that will improve renewal rates for the Village's Health Care Plan.
- Coordinate Village Employee spousal health care plan to eliminate any double coverage.
- Require Village Employees to pay 10% of their Wisconsin Retirement/Disability System Benefit for an annual savings of $120,000-$150,000.
- Postpone the $10,000,000 bond sale for the construction of a new Public Works Facility which with interest will cost taxpayers a total of around $15,000,000 depending on the length of the bond(s). This is not the time for a new Public Works Facility when the present facilities are just fine.
The total suggested savings are very doable and will save a considerable amount of money for the taxpayers.
With the severe recession and no end in sight, massive home foreclosures, high unemployment, economic uncertainty, benefit reductions, store closings, factory shutdowns, dwindling retirement accounts and the promise of higher state and federal taxes, this is not the time to raise fees and taxes.
This is the time for tax cuts and putting as much money as possible in the pockets of homeowners and business people.
Other communities are doing it, why can't Menomonee Falls?
Let the Village Manager and Village Board know what you think.
If you don't contact them with your ideas, concerns and suggestions on how to cut taxes, this budget will pass without objection.
Here's their contact information:
Mark Fitzgerald, Village Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org and 532-4200.
Village Board (http://menomonee-falls.org/index.aspx?nid=292)