By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — On Tuesday night the Marshfield Common Council officially approved the city’s budget for 2016 after the required public hearing. The council also approved the property tax rate, which will increase from $9.02 to $9.07 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
The city faced unique challenges this year in preparing the budget as it had to tightly cap spending growth in order to qualify for the state’s expenditure restraint program, which allocates funds to cities that limit spending growth. The state bases how much spending growth is allowable for cities seeking to qualify for the program based on two variables: net new construction and the rate of inflation. Because the rate of inflation was considerably lower than in years past, the city could only increase spending by 1.01 percent over the 2015 budget. In recent years the city had the option of increasing spending from 2-5.6 percent.
By limiting spending growth for the 2016 budget, the city is eligible for expenditure restraint funds in 2017. Those funds could be in the neighborhood of $400,000, City Administrator Steve Barg has said. Hub City Times took a deeper look at expenditure restraint funding in a previous story, which can be viewed here. Barg also wrote about the expenditure restraint program, and that article can be viewed here.
“As we all know, it’s been a difficult and challenging budget year, a lot of it having to do with the expenditure restraint program,” Barg said on Tuesday night.
Bill Penker was the lone Marshfield resident to speak at the public hearing about the budget.
“First, I wish to thank you (the council) and the city staff for putting together a modest budget that does not further compress the finite ability of many residents to pay for city services,” Penker said. “Your careful assessment of wants versus needs and your assessment of frills versus no frills is commendable.”
Penker disagreed with the allotment of $7,250 to Main Street Marshfield, which is contained in the budget for the city’s Economic Development Board. Main Street Marshfield is a nonprofit organization that works to enhance the downtown area and support its businesses. Penker said that it was time for the organization to effectively stand on its own without city funding.
Penker also said that he felt it was “unfortunate” that more citizens do not come and offer their views at city meetings.
Alderwoman Alanna Feddick was the lone council member to vote against approving the budget, though she commended the city staff and the rest of the council for their work throughout the process.
“I just wanted to thank everybody. The council, the staff, you guys did an amazing job,” Feddick said. “We had really good work sessions, and I’m really proud of the work that the council did.”
Ultimately, Feddick said that she could not vote to approve the budget because — as she listens to the constituents of her district, many of whom she said are on fixed incomes — she could not support the increase in property taxes.
“My concern is the rumblings I hear in my district (district two),” Feddick said. “My concern is there a lot of people on fixed incomes.”
Feddick added, “I am concerned about continuing increases. I understand we can. The question is, ‘Should we?’ And is our goal, is our mission to continue to provide all the services that we provide? Should we do something different? Should we look outside the box?”
Feddick said she is concerned that the tax hike would impact members of the city’s “more vulnerable population.” She said that if the tax rate had not increased or increased more modestly, she would have approved the budget.
The total city budget was set at $42,198,778 with $12,366,520 being generated via taxes.