City of PdC’s budget book details return on taxpayers’ investment

By Correne Martin
 
Every December, Prairie du Chien City Administrator Aaron Kramer compiles a budget book for the coming year. It includes a review of the current year, an assessment of what projects are to come the next year, a rundown of revenue and expenses for the coming year, a chart showing how Prairie du Chien ranks among other cities, as well as some miscellaneous information and pictures.

If you are a taxpayer in the city of Prairie du Chien, this budget book would be of great interest to you. Copies are available at City Hall, and on the city’s website (www.prairieduchien.info).

Prairie du Chien taxpayers will see a decrease of about $2.19 on a home assessed at $100,000 on their 2014 tax bill, determined by the total tax values and rates from the city, the county, the K-12 and college school systems, and the state combined.

Kramer’s budget book breaks down the percentages garnered by all entities. The Prairie du Chien School District will receive the largest chunk of taxpayer dollars, at 36.1 percent. The city government receives the second highest amount at 29.7 percent of people’s taxes, followed by Crawford County at 26.3 percent, Southwest Tech at 7.3 percent and the state at 0.6 percent. Of those groups, only the city received a smaller portion of the tax bill than the previous year.

According to Kramer, the city saw a 1.5 percent increase in the tax levy. However, thanks to growth in taxable properties, the city’s portion of the tax bill actually went down $11.89 per $100,000.

“People shouldn’t expect that every year,” he said. “Things just happened to fall into place this time. We had a bubble of growth, mostly due to construction from 2011 and 2012.”

Kramer said an increase in health care costs and reductions in state aid for municipal services will be obstacles for the city to overcome in 2014.

Still, the city will maintain a $5.577 million budget. That is financed in large part by $2,257,788 in general property taxes.

“Since 2010, the tax levy has increased 3.8 percent total,” said Kramer. “The Consumer Price Index Period from 2010 to 2013 jumped 6.8 percent, so we have met one of my goals, which is to keep the levy increases below the rate of inflation. We have made it a top priority to keep the tax bill growth as minimal as we can. By comparison, from 2007 to 2010, the levy jumped nearly 14 percent.

“We always take the same philosophy. I practice zero-based budgeting, in which I review each line item of the budget annually with the various department heads. I could literally tell you a story about every line in the budget,” explained Kramer, who has held his city administrator post since January of 2010. “This leads to more efficiency and accountability for each revenue and expenditure.”

Kramer insists to taxpayers that there isn’t a lot of cushion in the 2014 budget.

“Discretionary funding—the money we give to organizations like the ball park and the Chamber, and for equipment purchases—is probably under $100,000 (in 2014),” he said.

Even with that small margin, the city enjoys the largest reserve account fund and highest bond rating in its history, and its first-ever policy to prioritize surpluses.

One of the budget aspects about which citizens have vocalized their concerns the most is the city streets. Taxpayers would like to see more roadways repaired. Kramer addressed the issue.

“People want us to spend more money on roads but the fact is, we’ve done some major projects,” he said, listing South Michigan Street, Campion Boulevard, 15th Street, Overview Court, Glenn Street, etc.

In 2014, the Marquette Road project, with a price tag of more than $15 million, will expand the current roadway, add three roundabouts and make improvements to the city utilities and stormwater network. In 2015, North Ohio Street and North Main Street will be reconstructed, and in 2017, another phase of the Marquette Road project, from LaPointe Street to Mooney Street, will be done.

“We’re completing a good share of road projects, but mathematically, it’s not enough,” Kramer added. “There are many old streets in this community. We cannot take care of decades of deferred maintenance in a few budget years, even if we gutted the budget down to virtually nothing else.”

In addition to infrastructure undertakings, several major capital projects are on the horizon over the next 5-10 years in Prairie du Chien, including expansion of the public library, an anaerobic digester at the wastewater treatment plant, a new street department building, phase two of the Hoffman Hall renovation and upgrade, and replacement/upgrade of the fire station.

The Woodridge Acres project will also be finished this year and the former Prairie Maison property will offer a new area for real estate as well. Safe Routes to School will likely be complete this summer and minor improvements will be made to the historical Old Rock School.

“We have a debt schedule that has us aggressively paying off our current debt in the next eight years,” Kramer stated. “We will be borrowing money this year to do the next three-year capital budget (which includes the North Ohio, North Main and Marquette road projects).”

Besides the streets being at the forefront of budget conversations, Kramer said Hoffman Hall and its programming have pleasantly surprised the city with growing revenue, and the new Municipal Court system didn’t lose money in its first year, another surprise for city administration.

“It all goes back to quality of life in our community. Taxpayers should be comfortable knowing that, of all the things I do, priority number one is putting together a budget that gives them the most return on their investment,” Kramer said. Not a day goes by that there will be something dealing with this budget or future budgets coming across my desk, and I find that exciting and it makes me love the job I have.”

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