0% increase in tax levy resolution major topic of discussion
Alderperson Kevin Mathewson’s resolution to urge the mayor to propose a budget for the city that provides for a zero increase in the tax levy for 2013 was the major topic of discussion at tonight’s Common Council meeting. Four citizens spoke in favor of the resolution during the Citizens’ Comments portion of the meeting, plus two public hearings were held at the time the resolution was being considered which had several citizens speaking up as well in favor of the resolution and pleading with the Council not to defer it.
Mathewson said that his campaign literature contained the promise that “he would hold the line on taxes. This was a promise I made to my neighbors.” He urged a yes vote on his resolution.
Alderperson Daniel Prozanski made an amendment to Mathewson’s resolution. In effect, his resolution urged the mayor to “present a budget to the Common Council that meets the expected fiscal obligations of the city of Kenosha.” Mathewson was criticized for presenting his resolution too late in the budget process. Prozanski asked city administrator Frank Pacetti when the budget process started with the various city departments, and Pacetti replied back in July. “The budget is ready to go to press on Friday. When the mayor comes back from Germany, the budget will be finalized and ready for distribution on October 1st” (which is the date of the next Common Council meeting).
Alderperson Steve Bostrom said that he applauded Mathewson for what he was trying to accomplish. “We all need to sharpen our pencils during these tough economic times,” he said. “Amending the resolution is the wrong thing to do. This should be a commitment from all of us. This is what the citizens of the city of Kenosha deserve.” He urged the other council members to pass Mathewson’s resolution unchanged to a round of applause from the audience members.
Alderperson David Bogdala also was not in support of the amendment. He mentioned his attempt last year to come in with a proposal containing 20 items to keep the budget at a 0% tax levy increase. He was told it was too late. He also mentioned that he saw what the County did. “They took our lead. They asked the county executive to come in with a 0% tax levy increase. This is just the opinion of Council. This is our responsibility as legislators. If you’re for zero, then vote for zero. If not, then vote against it.” He did state that he didn’t know what’s in the budget, but he urged his fellow colleagues not to take out the language and “mess around with amendments.”
Alderperson Jan Michalski was in support of Prozanski’s amendment. He said, “We don’t get to aggregate our responsibility. We are all responsible. We don’t shift our responsibility to the mayor. We can’t duck it.” Alderperson Patrick Juliana also stated that he was voting for the amendment. “This is not the mayor’s budget. The Common Council has the last kick at it.”
Mathewson spoke again. “This is only urging the mayor, not directing him.” He urged the maker of the amendment to retract his amendment. “The amendment takes the resolution and rips it in half (he then ripped his paper). Let’s not pretend we’re something we’re not.”
Alderperson Tod Ohnstad stated that, in two weeks, the Common Council would have a big book to go over for a month. “At the end of that month, we’ll have another month to make suggestions. And, at the end of that month, we’ll still have another month to make further final suggestions. Around December 1st, we’ll then decide if we have the right number of policemen, firemen, weekly garbage pick-up, roads, etc. If the budget is at zero, then that’s great. If it’s a little more, then we’ll have to decide on those things then, not tonight.”
Alderperson G. John Ruffolo had a question for Pacetti. “Are we arguing for no reason? Is the budget at zero now?” Pacetti’s reply was that the budget was not finalized, but it was not at zero. “There is a small increase in the draft budget right now,” said Pacetti. Ruffolo said that the budget was at $72 million. “If the county can do zero, then our staff is pretty good. We should also be able to do zero. We used to pick up recycling once a week. Now, it’s every two weeks. Let the departments figure out their efficiencies. The amendment is game playing.” He urged the withdrawal of the amendment, and a vote up or down.
Prozanski asked the finance director, Carol Stancato, what the increase was in last year’s budget. He said that she couldn’t remember exactly, but it was a minimal increase. Prozanski said that “it made a difference what side of the fence you’re sitting on. My amendment asks us to put the best budget together that we can. The other side says zero.” He asked if anyone asked county executive Jim Kreuser how he felt about the zero budget resolution. Bogdala said that he did ask Kreuser about it, and Bogdala stated that Kreuser’s response was “if that’s what my board wants, that’s what they’ll get.”
Prozanski asked Steve Stanczak, the director of human resources, if the city lost employees over compensation issues, and Stancak said that it had. “Did these employees go over to the private sector and make more money?” The reply again was yes. “It’s really easy to say zero. It’s just grandstanding. Let us do our jobs, and then we vote. We find out the will of the Council in December. It’s just hyperbole now. There are people trying to get attention for political reasons.”
Alderperson Anthony Kennedy said that “it doesn’t mean that you are not being responsible if we vote for an increase in the budget. We have to make some hard decisions.” He spoke of the $9 million working capital balance, and his urging every year to put some of that money into the general fund. “I’m always told how irresponsible that is because it has to do with our ability to borrow money. I’m going to put forth the same proposal this year. In two years, things will get better.” He supported the resolution. “But,” he said to Mathewson, “if the resolution doesn’t get passed, don’t stop. It has no reflection on you and your ability to do what’s right.”
Bostrom gave some statistics. He said that the increase last year was a 1.4% increase, which placed an additional tax of fifty cents per $1,000 on the average family. The average sales price of a home was $110,000. With a 2.57 mill rate, that equated to $2,800 per year in real estate taxes. The city tax was 40 to 50% of that. The amount was approximately $20 per household. “If you disagree, vote against it. Stop playing games. Refer it, defer it, change it. If the amendment passes, I’m going to vote against the resolution because it changed what the author is seeking.”
Alderperson Michael Orth said that he was voting for the amendment. “If it passes, I’m then going to vote no for the resolution, and I’ll tell you why. It’s not about the budget process. It’s about people not believing that the mayor is doing the best job for the citizens of Kenosha. The mayor works as hard as he can to prepare a responsible budget. He can, and he will, and he has. I believe it will be a responsible budget, containing required services. We’ll get our kick at the cat. We have never passed a budget with no changes. We will do our job.” Ruffolo expressed his taking personal offense to comments that the mayor is not working hard.
Alderperson Eric Haugaard, sitting in as Council president tonight in the mayor’s absence, said that he will support the amendment. “It won’t affect the budget process. It bifurcates the Council. Just because it was on somebody’s campaign literature.”
The roll call vote on the amendment was 12 to 5. Those voting no were Alderpersons Ruffolo, Mathewson, Bostrom, Jesse Downing, and Bogdala.
Mathewson then asked if he could pull the resolution as the author of the resolution. Ed Antaramian, the city attorney, thought that the resolution could not be pulled. A five-minute recess was called for while the city attorney researched the issue. He returned with the decision that Mathewson could pull his sponsorship of the resolution, but that he could not pull the resolution all together. Mathewson then pulled his sponsorship of the resolution, and Kennedy then accepted the sponsorship of the resolution. Kennedy also made a motion to open the discussion to a public hearing. Three citizens then spoke passionately about the individual cuts and hard decisions they’ve had to make in their own households to accommodate the loss of jobs, lowered income, etc. “We’re bleeding; we’re hurting.”
Dayvin Hallmon, a county board supervisor, then spoke. He corrected everyone’s understanding about the 0% budget resolution at the county board level. “It started out at minus 2.5%. But, we realized that won’t fly. I’m not in favor of levy objectives. We need to do things to help people with their struggles. I’ve been in favor of community gardens, food banks, a foreclosure mediation program to help people stay in their homes. There are things we can do to alleviate peoples’ suffering. This Council has done a better job than the County Board. You have the maturity. Last year, when the health care bill was being discussed. Counties were invited to come and debate the issue. The County Board chose not to participate. They were debating their own health insurance. I commend all of you. You’re trying to address the problems of your constituents.”
Doug Williams also spoke. “I can’t believe that you are all getting so excited about one simple thing. We wish to have a zero budget. And, we’re debating about nothing. Get to a good point, and then vote on it. We have no control over costs. There are things to cut, trim.”
Yolanda Adams urged the Council to take their time and review the budget line by line. “But, how can you vote on something until you see it?”
Kennedy said that he “picked up the reins on this resolution because he was trying to build consensus of the Council and put trust in the process. I don’t want an ‘us vs. them situation.’ Call it horse trading, compromise. Hell, yea. That’s how we build consensus. Economic development is hard.” He spoke of the police chief and how his idea of creating community service officers freed up police officers to do more police work. “What a brilliant idea! He’s one of the best police chiefs I’ve ever served under, and there have only been two.”
Bostrom then raised the issue of the resolution no longer saying what was noticed in the agenda. Antaramian referred to the attorney general’s guidelines and said that there was no problem with it. Prozanski clarified then, “So this resolution meets the threshold of a proper notice?” Antaramian said that it did. Bostrom called for a deferral.
Juliana made the observation that, “In two weeks, we’ll have the budget in front of us. The Kenosha Common Council should really be called the Kenosha Comedy Club.”
A very vocal long-time Kenosha resident, Kerry Seremjian, spoke up again after Ruffolo made a motion to open it up to another public hearing. “You’ve missed the point here. His amendment makes the resolution useless, worthless. He came in with a good idea. It’s sending a message to the people of Kenosha, that we feel your pain. ‘I understand that you hurt.’ It shows that you care. Now, it’s just a joke. You should be ashamed of yourselves. You’re not getting it. We applaud the efforts of one man trying to let the people of Kenosha know you care and are concerned. I ask you all to reconsider the amendment or just forget the whole thing. Get at least a zero percent budget increase. Do your jobs. You will be held accountable for it.”
Another resident, Katherine Khabazeh, kept repeating, “I chose to live here. I chose this community. You have made this community a disgrace. This resolution was a waste of time. You should be using your time to go and make suggestions to the mayor. Do what you know is right.” She spoke of her eight years of work building “Keep Kenosha Beautiful,” and the fact that the community destroyed it. “Don’t insult us,” she said.
The roll call vote on ending the debate was 15 to 2 (Haugaard and Ruffolo voted no). The roll call vote on the deferral was 4 to 12. Mathewson abstained. The roll call vote on the item, as amended, was 8 to 7. Therefore, the resolution was amended with Prozanski’s changes. This discussion lasted more than two hours.