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Alderman Joel Petty

Baraboo City Council member Joel Petty examines the proposed city budget during Tuesday's Common Council meeting.

Baraboo’s Common Council said Tuesday it’s happy with the first draft of the city’s 2019 budget.

The council expressed few concerns while reviewing the proposed $18 million spending plan. The final budget will be approved later this year, once the city learns how much state aid it will receive.

Under the proposed budget, the city tax rate would hold steady at about $11 per $1,000 in property value, the same mill rate as last year. Owners of $150,000 homes would pay $1,671 in city taxes. The tax levy would shrink slightly to $8.5 million.

About $714,000 in money from the city fund balance would be used to balance the budget. Council member Tom Kolb asked whether dipping into the fund balance might affect the city bond rating. Because the city will retain a fund balance equal to 25 percent of its total budget, City Administrator Ed Geick said, the city’s borrowing rating shouldn’t be affected.

The budget is based on operational costs rising 1 percent and wages rising 2 percent. Water and sewer rates wouldn’t change. The city’s contributions to employees’ health insurance costs would decrease 3.6 percent without any reductions in coverage. “I usually expect that number to be in the other direction,” council member Joel Petty said.

The budget would maintain current service levels, placing a priority on road work. The city borrowed money to tackle a long list of overdue street projects this year, but heavy rains limited progress. Some projects have been pushed into 2019.

The budget calls for no new borrowing, but next year the city will begin planning for a new fire station to be occupied by the Fire Department and Baraboo District Ambulance Service. Meanwhile, Baraboo Public Library leaders are planning for an expansion of their Fourth Avenue facility.

Council members praised city staff for preparing a budget that’s easy on the eyes. “I’m really impressed by the work that’s been done,” Kolb said.

The only new staff positions proposed are a part-time page for the library and a full-time training officer for the Fire Department. Fire Chief Kevin Stieve said this officer could lead training outside the department’s traditional monthly Monday night sessions. This could help the department recruit firefighters who aren’t free Monday nights.

At the same time, this officer could respond to daytime calls and potentially succeed the chief once he retires. The position would pay $70,000 (costing the city $101,000 including benefits) but could save the city $30,000 by responding to daytime calls instead of a paid-by-the-call volunteer.

“Baraboo is in a transitional period,” Stieve said, noting the city is a bit large for a volunteer force but too small to afford a full-time crew. “I think this is a great step in the right direction.”

Follow Ben Bromley on Twitter @ben_bromley or call him at 745-3507.