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Board limits itself by law

But retains plenty of power to authorize capital projects

Aug. 14, 2012

Menomonee Falls - The Village Board has transferred the power to approve major capital projects to the electorate, but included a number of exemptions in the new ordinance that likely mean few projects will actually be put to referendum.

Last week, board members approved an ordinance requiring a referendum for non-emergency public works project with a cost that exceeds a quarter of 1 percent of the equalized value of the community. Right now, that rings in at just more than $10 million - about the size of the village's capital budget.

"That's the maximum we could spend on any project without going out for a referendum," Village President Randy Newman said.

That is, unless the project is:

within a tax-incremental financing district

a roadway project

required by federal, state, county or court order

covered by an existing agreement

relates to operations or infrastructure.

Further, only projects funded by property tax dollars would be sent to referendum.

Should an emergency occur, such as the collapse of a village bridge, the board still has the power to allocate money for its repair.

So, what would go to referendum?

The redevelopment of the Village Hall Library project, for example, would have fallen under this ordinance and required a referendum, Village Manager Mark Fitzgerald said.

The ordinance is set up as a percentage of the village's value so the dollar amount that triggers a referendum will change if the village's value goes up or down.

"It does have the ability to (change) if the village grows or if it drops. It puts some controls on that," Newman said.

The ordinance was created as a direct response to recent feedback from the community, Fitzgerald said.

Newman spearheaded the creation of the ordinance due to recent comments from residents, as well as a petition circulating around the village asking for board limitations.

"I've had several people come up to me and ask what are our powers and how much limits we have," Newman said. "It's not perfect, but I think it goes a long way in letting people know we are willing to put limits on ourselves."

The ordinance was fashioned around similar ones in surrounding municipalities including Richfield, Sussex and Mequon. Many municipalities follow the statutory requirements set by the state of Wisconsin; however, Fitzgerald said, officials wanted to take it a step further and set up limitations for capital expenditures. State statutes give the Village Board sole power to determine whether to authorize expenditures for public works projects.

This ordinance does not limit the board's power to loan money. However, Newman has asked Village Attorney Michael Morse to draft an ordinance that could limit the board's loaning powers.

"We talked about the loans to the Radisson and we talked about it being a one-time occurrence, but I think getting an ordinance in place addressing that will help restore the trust of the citizens," Newman said.

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