Hobart board discusses levy limit options
By Kevin Boneske
HOBART – The Village Board spent much of its meeting Tuesday, Nov. 2 discussing how to fund three new full-time positions while staying under the levy limit as it puts together next year’s budget.
Village Administrator Aaron Kramer presented the board the proposed 2022 budget consisting of the general fund, capital projects and debt service.
Kramer said the maximum property tax levy the village can have under state law is $3,164,226, which would be 4.76% higher than the levy included in the 2021 budget.
The village is proposing to add a full-time deputy clerk-treasurer next year, as well as the addition of a captain and a patrol officer to the Hobart/Lawrence Police Department and the promotion of an existing officer to sergeant.
The proposed budget presented by Kramer included the addition of a deputy clerk-treasurer, but not the additional police department staffing recommendations.
It called for a total tax levy of $3,083,421, which would be an increase of 2.08% from the previous year.
Kramer said that levy would include $1,855,588 for the general fund, $613,818 in capital projects and $614,014 in debt service.
To fund the additional police department staffing, which was discussed Oct. 26 when the Village Board met with the Lawrence Town Board, Kramer said cuts could be made elsewhere to stay under the levy limit.
He said Hobart covers two-thirds of the combined department’s operational expenses and half of the capital expenses.
Kramer estimated a police captain, with an annual salary of $83,000 plus benefits, would cost Hobart more than $75,000 in 2022 when factoring in the village’s share for the position, bringing Hobart’s levy to $3,159,206, a 4.6% increase from the previous year.
To also hire another patrol officer, he said the annual salary would be around $60,000, plus benefits, with the village’s share coming to $57,347.
“You cannot do both of those positions (in the police department) just straight out of the levy,” he said.
Because budgeting for an additional patrol officer along with a captain’s position would put the village over the levy limit, Kramer recommended reducing next year’s contingency fund by $30,000 to $60,326 and saving $23,500 by eliminating the subscriptions the village pays for Hobart residents to receive The Press Times.
Kramer said those reductions would put the village $1,172 under the state levy limit.
However, with the village’s share of promoting an existing officer to sergeant costing $1,847, he said the board would need to cut another $675 to stay under the levy limit.
Kramer said the proposed budget he presented didn’t include any of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) federal grant funds the village is receiving in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said the village could use ARPA funds for capital projects, instead of making budget cuts to stay under the levy limit.
Kramer said public safety would be an authorized ARPA expenditure, for which the board previously approved a portion of the money for purchasing body cameras for the police department.
However, he cautioned against using ARPA funds for personnel expenses, because the money won’t be available in the future, and Kramer expressed a preference for using the funds for capital expenses, such as squad cars.
Kramer said he has no issue with The Press Times, but rather made the recommendation to end paying for the subscriptions based on the board’s discussion the previous week about staffing the police department.
“I’m not the one that’s going to put these things into the budget,” he said. “The only thing I did was (add) the deputy clerk-treasurer. Again, you have the right to say, ‘Pull that out, (or) we need all these positions.’ The question is: what’s affordable?”
Kramer said the rationale for eliminating The Press Times subscriptions is because Hobart is the only local community to purchase residents subscriptions to the paper.
“If people want the subscription, they can get the subscription,” he said. “It’s not outrageously expensive.”
Kramer said the village budget doesn’t have “a ton of things to cut.”
“A lot of it is tied up in salaries – that’s why I give you the salary schedule,” he said.
Board members expressed support for continuing to provide Press Times subscriptions to residents next year, and questioned how much the money budgeted for new positions wouldn’t be used because of the people hired not starting next January.
“There’s saving right here that we’re not even recognizing,” Village President Rich Heidel said.
In putting together the budget, Kramer said he tries to “over-aim on the expenditures and undershoot on the revenues.”
“I don’t like a budget with a lot of variables,” he said. “That’s what bothering me about this with three full-time positions and not knowing what the health insurance is. Right now, I’ve got about $51,000 projected to cover health insurance for three employees. Maybe it’s going to be ($31,000).”
Except for Trustee Debbie Schumacher, who opposed adding two positions in the police department, board members present were in agreement to include the three new full-time positions into next year’s budget.
They were in unanimous agreement to continue subscriptions next year to The Press Times and find money in budget for that.
To work out how to fund the 2022 budget, the board scheduled a special meeting for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 9, prior to holding a public hearing and finalizing the budget Nov. 16.
Kramer said he will present the board options to take the tax levy to the limit, along with steps to reduce the levy with ARPA funds and a possible reduction in the contingency fund.
In the event the Lawrence Town Board wouldn’t agree Monday, Nov. 8, with adding the two positions to the police department, he said the budget figures he presents the next day would change.
“It would be in reaction to what Lawrence does the night before,” Kramer said.