City finance committee trims proposed 2017 budget
Overall surplus for year projected after cuts made
BY KEVIN BONESKE
After looking at a projected overall budget deficit for next year that approached close to $500,000 in earlier deliberations, the Rhinelander Finance, Wage and Salary Committee has made reductions to come up with an expected surplus at the end of 2017.
Committee members heard Tuesday from city finance director Julie Ostrander about the changes made to erase an annual deficit of more than $488,000 for 2017, had total city expenses been over $9.3 million for the year as previously projected.
By discontinuing payments to employees who don’t use the city’s health insurance benefits as well as health savings accounts, while having employees contribute 10 percent of the total in health insurance premiums, Ostrander noted that could save around $197,000.
Of the more than $345,000 in the total department reductions made, they included putting off $60,500 in electrical upgrades at Pioneer Park until 2018. Upgrading the park’s electrical system has been sought by the Oneida County Fair, which has been held there annually in recent years.
The proposed budget also calls for eliminating raises next year for non-union employees to save $31,657 and longevity pay that has been provided based on years of employment with the city to save another $37,508.
Committee member Tom Gleason expressed his reservations about eliminating longevity pay, calling it a “slap in the face” to longtime city employees.
A general debt service surplus transfer to the general fund would cut another $100,000, according to the budget figures Ostrander presented.
Ostrander said the city’s general property tax levy used to pay for the 2017 budget is slated to remain the same as the previous year at $4,596,354, but she noted the associated property tax rate wouldn’t be known until the city receives final numbers on its equalized value from the state.
GOLF COURSE DEFICIT
One budget-related item generating significant discussion at Tuesday’s meeting was the city-owned Northwood Golf Course, which committee members noted has accumulated around $1 million in debt over the years and for 2017 is projecting an overall loss of more than $62,000.
Committee member Alex Young said he believes the city will have to “face the music” that the golf course debt will likely never be paid off and continue to increase if something isn’t done.
“Eventually, I think, we’re going to have to make some tough decision and, eventually, we may have to write off that debt…,” Young said. “If we have no expectation we’re ever going to collect on it, which I think is probably pretty accurate, we ought to write it off.”
“It’s become a huge burden to the city taxpayers,” said committee member Sherrie Belliveau.
Golf course superintendent Joe Andersen, who was also present for the meeting, noted about one-third of the course’s accumulated debt has come from administrative expenses the city charged the course.
“It went on for 15 years and averaged about $26,000 a year,” Andersen said. “That’s a huge chunk of money.”
After discontinuing those administrative expenses, however, Young noted the golf course has continued to lose money.
“At some point, we’ve got to come to the uncomfortable reality that if we’re going to continue to run the golf course – the numbers haven’t changed in the last 10 years – unless we make drastic changes somewhere, they’re probably not going to change,” Young said. “We can accept that, or we can make some changes. I don’t know, but we’ve got to face the music on this.”