City’s 2021 budget passes by mayoral tie-breaker
The city of Merrill’s 2021 budget may have been approved during last week’s common council meeting, but it didn’t come without contention. In fact, the vote to pass an ordinance adopting next year’s budget resulted in a 4-4 council deadlock, leading to a tie-breaker vote in favor, by Mayor Derek Woellner.
The 2021 budget as approved, rang in at $15,621,220, with a tax levy of $5,776,084; down $33,918 (.58%) from the 2020 levy. Included within the 2021 budget is 1% wage increases effective December 21, 2020 and June 21, 2021 for Non-Union employees, except for seasonal Limited Term Employees (LTEs) and Election Officials.
Topping the list in terms of departmental budgets is the Merrill Police Department ($2,649,393), Merrill Fire Department ($1,400,112) and the City’s Street Department ($1,560,577). Several city departments reflected considerable savings compared to their 2020 budget.
The city’s IT department tops that list in overall savings with a budget of $180,950, down $13,300 from last year’s $192,500 operating budget. Staffing costs in the city clerk/treasurer’s office is down $8,082 from last year, with a 2021 operating budget of $158,276. Other department budgets showing reductions include the City Administrator’s Office ($3,432 in savings) and City Hall custodial and maintenance services ($2,229 savings). Another area of savings is the city’s Garbage Collection services ($22,468) and recycling ($20,593).
As for department’s reflecting increases in operating budgets, the City Building Inspector/Zoning office budget topped out at $120,965, up $2,460 from last year. The City Clerk’s office budget reflects a $1,770 increase from 2020 ($90,385) as well as Municipal Court costs ($1,501.)
During discussion last Tuesday night, 2nd District Alderman Steve Hass voiced opposition to the passage of the budget as presented, citing concerns with the hangars at Merrill Municipal Airport being partially funded by Tax Increment Financing (TIF) as well as concerns with borrowing associated with the city’s trash and recycling services.
According to City Administrator Dave Johnson, the city’s recycling services will switch to automated collection in mid-2021.
“This will afford staff resource efficiencies through automated trucks. This allows the shift of two employee positions to other priority functions, including city streets personnel for sidewalk and concrete work and a third parks laborer position.”
“The people of the eighth district say no,” added 8th District Alderman Steve Sabatke, who also dissented. “I represent the people of the eighth district and I am concerned for them. We’re approaching our debt limit, we are borrowing too much and I also believe some of our priorities are misplaced. ”Others standing opposed were 4th District Alderman Steve Osness and 6th District Alderman Mike Rick.
“I think we have done our due diligence,” Woellner stated, before casting the tie-breaker vote. “We have spent a lot of time talking about this, a lot of good points have been made to approve this, so I’ll vote yes.”
Johnson was seemingly pleased with the outcome of Tuesday’s meeting. “After numerous meetings to work through the budget I am pleased that we have successfully passed a 2021 budget,” he said.
“I am disappointed that after crafting a 2021 City budget with no increase for Merrill property owners the Mayor was forced to break a 4-4 tie vote to pass the budget. Any increase in property taxes will not be coming from the city but rather from the county, MAPS, or NTC, over which the city has no control. I disagree with an Alderman’s statement that ‘some of our priorities are misplaced,’ Our priorities are where they need to be, that is providing quality services, economic development and redevelopment, and investing in infrastructure.”