The Chippewa Falls City Council is targeting a referendum that would be roughly $2 million annually, which would allow the city to hire perhaps nine additional employees, while giving pay raises to the rest of city staff.
A $1 million referendum would mean an extra $12 in property taxes a month, or $144 annually, on a home valued at $150,000, said city Finance Manager Lynne Bauer. At $2 million, the referendum’s impact is double. This would be an annual, ongoing expense with no sunset clause.
After lengthy discussions this year, Council President Chuck Hull said it appears that the council members are on board with a referendum in the $2 million range. Hull said a general referendum is for ongoing expenses; it is generally not used for capital purchases.
“We need to figure out the amount and what makes sense,” Hull said.
Because of state-imposed property tax levy limits, the city has been largely unable to add new positions to city staff, said Mayor Greg Hoffman. However, the city has grown, and more workers are needed, he said.
Bauer said she needs each department to submit the number of staff requested. She then can calculate the estimated salary of those positions, the size of the referendum and the tax impact. In all likelihood, the council will settle on a plan to add one or two employees in each of the police, fire/EMS, parks and streets departments, and another staffer for City Hall.
Councilman Paul Nadreau wondered if the city needs a consultant to help them get out a unified statement.
“I would like homeowners to get something they can look at,” Nadreau said.
Other council members agreed, and asked Bauer to seek applications from consulting agencies.“I think we’d have community support, but we’d have to market it right,” Hull said.
Council members generally agreed that they would like a referendum to be on the November ballot. However, that means an Aug. 16 deadline to have it included on the ballot.
“I’d like to do it as fast as we can, but we need to do it right,” said Councilman Rob Keifer, who also endorsed hiring a consulting firm.
Police Chief Matt Kelm noted that public safety and school referendums have been very successful in the state in recent years. His agency now has 25 sworn officers, but “we averaged 21 officers actually working and taking calls despite an average authorized level of 23.5 over the last 10 years, mostly due to turnover.” Kelm said that if the city wants 25 officers working on the street, they should authorize 27.
Kelm said the pay hike, which would make up about close to half of the $2 million referendum, is warranted.
“Without an adjustment, even agencies as small as Stanley and Lake Hallie pay their officers more than we do here in Chippewa Falls,” Kelm said. “We must take action ow to keep the well-trained and carefully-selected officers here.”
Last July, the police department was able to add another officer as part of an agreement with the Chippewa Falls school district to share a second school resource officer. That brought the city’s police department back to 25 officers.
Twenty years ago, the Chippewa Falls Police Department had 27 sworn officers. However, because of tight budgets, the agency had shrunk to 23 officers through attrition, not layoffs. The city agreed to increase back to 24 officers in the 2019 budget.
News Source: Leader Telegram