Reedsburg is taking steps to ensure the past does not repeat itself almost one year after an error found in the 2019 budget resulted in a tax increase the council did not approve.
City Administrator Tim Becker said the 2020 budget will be “vetted,” with extra sets of eyes looking through it internally and externally, making sure there are not any errors.
Internal sources looking at the budget include Becker, City Clerk/Treasurer-Finance Director Jacob Crosetto and all the department heads, he said. The budget will be reviewed by the city’s financial adviser and auditors as an extra set of eyes to catch any errors that may be present.
“All our numbers will be checked and rechecked,” Becker said.
Another aspect that’s changed is the time frame for the council and finance committee to review the budget.
The finance committee is scheduled to review the upcoming budget Oct. 16, where a recommendation could be made to pass the budget to the council. The meeting is at 6 p.m. at Reedsburg City Hall 134 South Locust Street. Council members are invited to attend the meetings to ask questions and bring up concerns. Another meeting is scheduled for Oct. 29 if further review is necessary.
When Stephen Compton was city administrator, the budget hearings were held over three meetings, including a joint meeting with the council and finance committee to review the budget.
Last year, Compton used the wrong numbers to calculate the tax levy when building the $6.1 million budget and presenting the information to the council, using the equalized value instead of assessed value. Once the numbers were submitted to the county and plugged in, the $30 million difference between both numbers resulted in a 6% increase for taxpayers instead of a no tax increase the council approved weeks earlier.
Compton announced his resignation shortly after the error was made public. Two months later, Becker was appointed as Reedsburg’s new city administrator.
While error also resulted in the city adjusting its budget by over $40,000 to qualify for the expenditure restraint program, Becker said it will not affect the upcoming budget because “the city didn’t take in any more money than we thought we were going to from taxpayers.”
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Becker said he believes Compton’s error was not intentional and caused by the stress of being pulled in different directions, especially with the 2018 floods as a public information officer for the city. The city administrator position was part-time when Compton held the position. Now in a full-time position, Becker said there’s more time to divert attention to the budget, along with other responsibilities.
While it will be his first budget presentation as city administrator, it’s a process Becker's used too. Along with a master’s degree in Business and Public Administration, he was the city’s police chief for 13 years before becoming the city administrator. So he has experience creating a budget and presenting it to the city.
“I don’t think this will be a challenge as someone might think it would be,” Becker said. “Budgeting for the city isn’t a big mystery. It’s very straight forward. It’s math. You just have to make sure your numbers are correct.”
All requests have been submitted to Becker to piece together the 2020 budget, he said. The Capital Improvement and Capital Equipment Plans were approved by the council in September. Becker said members of the finance committee and council will be given a copy of the budget before the Oct. 16 workshop to review the budget beforehand.
Third District Alderperson Phil Peterson, who also sits on the finance committee, believes there won’t be miscommunication regarding the 2020 budget because of the format the city has put in place to improve communication. However, he’s prepared to ask questions if something seems amiss.
“I always have and we did that last year,” Peterson said. “We were just not provided the correct numbers and information last year which led to the very unfortunate issue.”
“We’re doing our best to have clear communication and have a budget that provides the most bang for the buck for the residents of Reedsburg,” Peterson said. “We did our best last year there was just some unfortunate miscommunications. We’re moving on and hopefully we can have a budget that comes through that is healthy for the city and healthy for the residents.”
Alderperson-at-Large Brandt Werner, who also sits on the finance committee, said he’d like to see more “safeguards” in reviewing the budget. He is prepared to ask questions and ask about the numbers used to calculate the tax levy, he said.
“I’m definitely going to ask to see them,” Werner said, adding he had “total confidence” in Becker to presenting an accurate budget.