WAUKESHA - It took the Waukesha Common Council
about three hours to trim $38,000 from its 2014 operating budget
and ultimately approve a $53,098,827 tax levy (a 2.74 increase
over 2013), meaning that the city’s tax rate will be about
$10.19 per thousand dollars of assessed value.
That means that a person with a $200,000 home
will pay approximately $2,018 on the city portion of his or her
property tax bill.
Finance Director Richard Abbott said the budget
was still about a million dollars under the state levy limit.
Here were the big discussion items:
Municipally owned Prairie Home Cemetery is a
topic of discussion every budget season, whether it’s the
possibility of letting it sell vaults and headstones, or whether
the city should be in the cemetery business at all.
City Administrator Ed Henschel said it’s his goal
to have the cemetery be self-supporting, meaning that its tax
subsidy would be eliminated, by 2016. He said in a memo that he
plans to work with Cemetery Manager David Brenner to streamline
operations and reduce costs.
Still, the council spent more than an hour
discussing the cemetery at the behest of Alderwoman Kathleen
Cummings, who wanted to eliminate a total of $33,000 from the
cemetery’s budget for advertising and consulting. She said she’d
compared Prairie Home to several other similarly-sized
municipality-owned cemeteries and that it’s the only one
spending that kind of money.
Alderman Roger Patton agreed, saying that “people
who are dying do so without advertising.”
However, Brenner said Prairie Home tries to
benchmark itself against the “best of the best,” and having
consultants with a different eye come in can often help generate
“Cemeteries aren’t just about the dead ...
they’re clearly about the living,” Brenner said, adding that he
hoped the council would keep that context in mind when making
decisions about Prairie Home.
Alderwoman Joan Francoeur suggested having an ad
hoc committee look at the cemetery as a whole next year, and
Alderman Eric Payne said it was nice that everyone had so many
opinions, but he made a referral about putting the cemetery with
the Parks Department last year and it was never taken up.
Ultimately the council voted 7-7 to take out the
$18,000 advertising budget, with Mayor Jeff Scrima breaking the
tie in favor of removing the dollars, and 13-1 in favor of
removing $15,000 from the consulting budget.
Scrima’s big issue for this year’s budget was
mowing the grass on several arterial medians that the state
Department of Transportation is generally responsible for
maintaining. Cummings said she had spoken to officials at the
county and state level, who said a state urban mowing law limits
the number of times such medians can be mowed, and encouraged
city officials to work with other governments to possibly get
the laws changed.
The Waukesha County Museum & Historical Society
will get no financial love from the city of Waukesha, despite
two council members’ attempts to fund various aspects of the
downtown Waukesha organization.
First, Patton attempted to add $5,000 of city
financial support for the museum to use on a “program that
relates to downtown itself,” such as Freeman Friday Night Live,
the Christmas Parade, haunted houses, etc. Patton said those
programs would “make it less a pile of bricks sitting on the
corner, and more a part of downtown.”
His motion failed for lack of a second.
Later in the meeting, Cummings made a motion to
add $6,500 to the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department’s
ground maintenance budget to mow the grass and otherwise
maintain the grounds at the museum.
“We spent all this time talking about the medians
being the gateway to the city, but the museum is the gateway to
downtown,” Cummings said.
Patton was the only council member who agreed,
and her motion failed.