Ashwaubenon plans 3% raise for village employees
By Kevin Boneske
ASHWAUBENON – As part of the 2022 village budget being put together for approval in November, Village Manager Joel Gregozeski said a 3% raise is proposed for non-union employees.
Gregozeski informed the Ashwaubenon Village Board at its meeting Sept. 28 the village has traditionally budgeted for an increase in wages related to inflation.
“That 3% is based on two factors,” he said. “One, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue announced and certified their consumer price index for urban consumers at 3%… and then anecdotally, (I spoke with) with other area administrators, many of which are looking at a 3% increase to wages to match inflation as well.”
Gregozeski said every half-percent increase, based on this year’s village wage figures, will result in about a $20,000 increase in general fund spending.
“It does have certainly a financial impact to the bottom line,” he said.
Gregozeski said proposed additional staff or changes in compensation to existing staff for next year include:
• Public Safety adding a full-time officer for traffic enforcement and a full-time fire inspector. He said feedback from the strategic planning process supported improved traffic enforcement, and there is the workload and need to provide two annual fire inspections to all commercial and manufacturing properties.
• Finance/information technology adding a full-time media and communications specialist. He said the new position would provide assistance with the current audio and video broadcasting/recording of meetings, as well as assist in any marketing efforts.
• Parks, Recreation and Forestry reclassifying a full-time park custodian position to a parks laborer. He said the change would result in a wage increase, but not added benefit costs.
Parks, Recreation and Forestry Director Rex Mehlberg said the reclassification is intended to retain the employee with higher wages.
Gregozeski said the village’s health insurance program, which is self-funded, “has proven to be very beneficial to us,” with no change in premiums projected for next year.
“However, we’re getting closer to that kind of threshold, as it relates to premium forgiveness and the number of months that get charged back to the departments,” he said. “So certainly next year, I think, we certainly could manage a non-rate change on the premium, but it does have what would be kind of more of a longer-term impact over the year. So, that will be one item that we’ll want to discuss, I think, in a little bit more detail.”
ARPA fund usage
With Ashwaubenon allocated around $1.8 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), of which half is now available to the village, Gregozeski said the village is looking at those grant dollars to offset revenue loss since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to help fund capital projects previously planned and canceled.
He said an annual report is being prepared to submit before the end of October related to ARPA, from which the village has spent no money to date.
The village would have until the end of 2024 to obligate spending the funds.
Gregozeski said the board’s hiring of Human Resources Consulting for $50,000 in 2021 has worked out well.
“I think the structure of having a contracted service support us in that endeavor has actually worked out pretty well versus in-house,” he said. “And for that reason, it’s provided some flexibility for the HR function. They are working two days per week in the office, and most of their hands-on work can be accommodated within that two-day-a-week setup and schedule.”
Gregozeski said Human Resources Consulting will do some additional work to improve employee relations and communication.
“From a budgetary standpoint, we’re certainly well under budget year-to-date for that (human resources) purpose,” he said.
Gregozeski said the village is looking to continue the same human resources structure and service for 2022.
Tax levy versus rate
Gregozeski said the village would not be able to support additional staffing, etc., being proposed for 2022 with the tax levy remaining the same.
“That we know for certain because there just isn’t sufficient expenditure cuts to accommodate the increases,” he said. “However, if we maintain our (tax) rate, then most of these items should be able to be accommodated from that perspective. With that being said, we’ve had a shift in the assessed value in our community from commercial class to residential class, just because of how the assessed value works out.”
Gregozeski said an increase in the village’s tax levy “will exacerbate or compound some of those challenges related to increased assessment costs.”
“Some communities are very focused on (tax) rate, and so the rate can stay static and they’re OK with how the levy plays out because of equalized value,” he said. “Some communities are very focused on the levy because that ultimately determines how many tax dollars are being generated from the taxpayers.”
Figures from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue show Ashwaubenon’s total equalized value increased in 2021 by about $180 million, or 6.7%, to more than $2.864 billion.
Finance Director Greg Wenholz said he’s in the process of putting together how much the village’s tax levy would have to be to pay for all the requests in the 2022 budget.
Wenholz said ARPA funds must be included in budget calculations to determine what projects could be done with those dollars.
“It’s really going to come down to where do you want to be as a board,” he said. “If you want to stay at the tax rate, that… pretty much would cover everything we discussed. If you want to be at the levy, you can pretty much take every (additional) request and take it out. It’s going to be some blend in the middle. We have to go through that process of identifying what are the key priorities, what are the key projects (and) what are the key capital outlays that we want to perform.”
Wenholz said the village needs to ensure ARPA funds can cover some of the large one-time costs.
“We’ve got some out there,” he said. “Some of these building projects that are one-time deals, if we can use ARPA funds for, that’s great. That really helps our budget. The cost of the body cameras and the car cameras – it’s a big one-time cost that we could potentially knock out with ARPA funds.”
Wenholz said he expects the village will provide some relief for an increase in assessed property values, “but yet still manage our needs within the budget.”
“Each of those positions that were brought forth are things that have been in the hopper for years…” he said. “These aren’t just random thoughts for this year.”
Last November, the board gave final approval to the 2021 budget with an increase in both the tax levy and rate.
Board members approved a tax levy of $12,714,769, an increase of $156,251, or 1.24%, from the previous year.
Of the total tax levy, the board designated $9,784,368 (77%) for the general fund, $2,149,261 (16.9%) for the debt service fund, $756,140 (5.9%) for the capital projects fund and $25,000 (0.2%) for the special revenue fund.
Wenholz said the levy for village purposes resulted in a mill rate of $5.79 per $1,000 of assessed value, an increase of 11 cents per $1,000, or 2%, from the previous year.