By Heather Graves
GREEN BAY – Tensions ran high at the Tuesday, Nov. 5, Green Bay Common Council meeting as city alders spent nearly five hours discussing the 2020 proposed city budget, which called for the largest tax hike in 10 years.
Though much was discussed and debated, ultimately very was little changed.
In a 7-5 vote, alders approved the $110 million city budget – with Alders Chris Wery, Brian Johnson, John Vanderleest, Jesse Brunette and Andy Nicholson voting “no.”
The city budget calls for a 3.3 percent increase in the tax rate for an increase to $9.46 for every $1,000 of assessed property value.
Property owners will see a tax increase of approximately $45 on a median $150,000 home.
Residents will also see an increase in their water bill after alders approved moving the forestry budget to the storm water utility.
Residents can expect an increase of about $26 a year, or about $6.50 for each quarterly bill.
The final increase is 1 cent higher than originally proposed by Mayor Eric Genrich, because alders voted to reestablish a 2 percent pay increase for non-union city employees, instead of the proposed 1 percent.
Genrich said the increases are necessary to remedy financial issues the city is facing caused by decisions made in past years to avoid tax increases.
“As I’ve said before, I believe it to be a reasonable and responsible budget focusing on the basic needs of this community while placing us on a sustainable fiscal path forward,” Genrich said. “If the majority of the people in Green Bay wanted someone who would slash city government in order to keep taxes flat, they would not have elected me. Governing is hard, but it is your job and my job to do the hard work.”
The only topic that generated public comment during the evening was the reclassification of a human resources assistant position to add a diversity and inclusion coordinator position at a salary of approximately $65,000, including benefits.
“Our demographics in Green Bay are changing and our workforce should reflect that,” said Andrea Hay, a member of the Young Professional Advisory Council.
Alders discussed at length the importance of the position.
“(This position) is a need, not a want,” said District 1 Alder Barbara Dorff. “There is a lot of white privilege sitting at this table and I think perhaps we all could benefit from a little cultural diversity training.”
Others said a position like this is far overdue.
“This (position) is a need that has been overlooked for far too long,” said District 7 Alder Randy Scannell.
Genrich said the City of Appleton has had this position for 22 years.
“The position would be a huge benefit,” Genrich said. “It is a big piece of the puzzle.”
The position did receive some pushback from alders questioning the need for the position at this time.
“My vote against filling this position is not because I’m against diversity and inclusion,” said Brunette. “I don’t think a very compelling case has been made that given all the other issues we have within our community and all other pressing needs that this position isn’t need as part of a city staff. Government doesn’t need to fix everything.”
The use of $231,000 in wheel tax revenue for pothole repair work was also a hot topic.
Some alders raised concerns about the wheel tax money being used for things other than repaving and reconstructing streets.
“We’ve always said we need more road work done,” Wery said. “Stop the excuses.”
Other alders saw repairing potholes to prolong the life of a street as a perfect use of wheel tax revenue funds.
“Putting a Band-Aid to fix some potholes I think is a great use of that wheel tax money for now,” Scannell said. “This is what this wheel tax is for.”
As a compromise the council agreed to use the remaining unallocated wheel tax revenue funds from 2019 to pay for pothole filling work in 2020.
The budget also includes the addition of five police officers bringing the total to 185. The five additional officers is a welcome increase after seeing a decrease in officers over the last five years.