Wednesday, August 27, 2008

End of Summer

On Labor Day we will be holding the 2nd annual City Wide Picnic in Fireman’s Park. Come on down and enjoy music, games and food. It is a good time to get together with friends and celebrate the end of summer and the beginning of the school year. Mark Croft will be performing, there will be burgers and brats for sale, games and a jump house for the children. I hope to see you there!

As summer comes to an end Public Works is working to complete the road projects scheduled for this year. The parking lot by City Hall will be regraded and surfaced. Last winter there were several mishaps on the ice in the parking lot. The new design is much safer and provides parking for Library patrons as well as folks visiting City Hall. A part of Dix Street near 16/60 has been resurfaced. There will be some paving work done on Charles Street and cured-in-place sewer piping is being constructed. These are all much needed repairs that are essential to keeping the infrastructure of the city in good repair. Next year will see the Williams Street project and Lewis Street sewer project. We have experienced many years of not maintaining our infrastructure, and without annual maintenance the costs to replace are extremely high. This is a wise use of our tax money.

The City Administrator has been working with the department heads to prepare the 2009 budget. We anticipate an overall city tax increase of 2% which actually represents a decrease in money available for city services. We have a commitment for over 3% salary increases for union employees and approxmately11% increase in health insurance. Gas, oil, asphalt and many supplies have gone up in cost dramatically. In addition we experience record snows last winter and used up the entire snow removal budget for 2008 before this winter season has even arrived. The 2% overall budget increase will need to cover these expenses. Our mill rate will decrease in 2009 as a result of the revaluation. The state mandates the revaluation whenever assessed property values fall below 90% of fair market value. That threshold was met two years ago, so we had to reassess.

The Fire Department met to discuss incorporating EMS into fire services. They voted, and overwhelmingly approved moving forward to propose a plan that will provide EMS services integrated into the Fire Department. The fire department will be putting together a proposal that is fiscally responsible while providing superior EMS services. The goal is to save money, provide better service, and preserve as many EMT jobs locally as possible. They believe that this can be accomplished without any increase in taxes. You will be hearing more about this as the proposal is developed.

Happy Labor Day and drive safely as the children return to schools. They are precious treasurers… our future.

Nancy Osterhaus

Friday, August 15, 2008

Revaluation and Budget

This week you probably received your revaluation letter from the appraisers. The City of Columbus was required by law to perform this revaluation to bring the fair market value assessment of the city to 100%. It has been 8 years since the last revaluation and the residential assessments had slipped to 64% of fair market value. Since we’re going from 66% to 100%, on average the change will be around 36% increase. This does not mean that taxes will go up by 36%!!!! The City Council has set a goal of 2% increase in spending for 2009. The revaluation distributes the cost more equitably across the city. On average every 5-6 years the city must do a revaluation. This one was big for because the last full assessment was in 2000 and most houses did not get a walk through at that time.

If you feel that your current assessed value is not fair, please schedule an appointment with the assessors. Call them at 800-770-3927 for an appointment or send your questions to them. They will be in City Hall on August 27th and 28th, and you can make an appointment to visit with them to understand your situation.

We have begun the 2009 budget process, and as I mentioned the goal is about 2% increase. The city faces significantly higher increases in union salaries, utilities, health insurance, etc. That means that we will continue to find ways to cut costs while funding new initiatives. It is always a challenge to fund very important programs and reduce funding in other areas. You will continue to see us focusing on efficiencies in the city

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Efficient, Safe City Operations

City Government has accomplished a lot of good work this year. We’ve taken a look at ways to save taxpayer’s money and perform city work more efficiently. This work continues. This week at the Committee of the Whole meeting we will be discussing hiring George Sheets, former Beaver Dam Fire Chief, to help take a look at reorganizing the Fire Department to include EMS services. The Fire Department has asked for this reorganization and they have asked for a full-time, professional chief to lead the combined Fire Department / Emergency Management Services. The goal is to also do this more efficiently and save taxpayer’s money. We currently spend over $210,000 annually on EMS services, and this money can be reallocated to provide EMS service in-house. George is educated and experienced in Fire Department / EMS operations. In addition to being a chief in several large communities, he has a masters degree in Organizational Management. We have the opportunity to use his skills and experience to help our Fire Department become more efficient and improve the quality of both fire service and EMS. George is not interested in being hired into this position, but will act solely as a consultant.

I am in the process of setting up a committee to review the options and develop a Fire Chief Job description that encompasses the expertise needed to lead the department forward. George will act as a consultant to this committee helping them set the standards for Fire and EMS services. Bill Breunig will chair this committee. Bill is a Captain in the Fire Department and the Eastern Columbia County Judge. He has been on the Columbus Fire Department since 1984 and is respected by the firefighters and community. His leadership will ensure the Fire Department’s voice and Community’s needs are kept front and center. The committee will include representatives from the Community, Hospital, School, Rural Group, Fire Department, Police & Fire Commission, and City Council. Throughout this entire process we will ensure the safety of our citizens is enhanced by this reorganization, never compromised.

The Council is also reviewing studies of the City Hall roof. Several weeks ago we went upstairs and took a look at the roofing structure and learned that the beams that hold the roof in place are failing and need to be replaced. We have earmarked $300,000 in the Capital Improvement Plan to perform this work. City Hall is a grand old building, the cornerstone of our City. This building has served as the center of our government since 1892 and there is no reason that it cannot continue in this function for many more years to come. It needs a new roof… it’s that simple. We will talk about options available and begin the project to maintain this landmark property. It is much less expensive to do the maintenance now rather than be put in a position of having to fund repairs when the roof fails.

Last week I attended the Mayor’s Innovation Projected hosted by Madison Mayor, Dave Cieslewicz and the University of Wisconsin. It was wonderful. About 60 people attended this conference, mostly mayors from across the county and the state. We talked about issues that affect every city large and small. Issues boil down to discussion of money and people… how do we provide the best services that we can for our citizens, while watching the budget and keeping taxes affordable. What decisions can we make that will enhance quality of life for the citizens. Great conversations, great information on how other cities have solved their problems. We all learn from each other’s experiences and ideas.

Have a great weekend… summer is certainly in full force. The flower gardens around the city are spectacular with the purple cone flowers and roses in full bloom. It is a great time to take a walk and enjoy this wonderful city.