Prairie du Chien tax bills increase

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By Correne Martin

If you’re a taxpayer in the city of Prairie du Chien, your total bill for 2015 went up—on the simple valuation of a $100,000 home—by $27.81, to $2,918.76. Full payment, or at least the first installment of property taxes, should be delivered in person at the city office by Friday, Jan. 29, or postmarked by Monday, Feb. 1.

“Our trend in keeping taxes down has stopped,” City Administrator Aaron Kramer said, pointing to a graph showing increases in the school district, technical college, county and state portions from last year, and a small decrease in the city’s share.

“The city’s portion of the local tax bill has been pretty level since 2011. It’s down over $50, per hundred thousand, since I came here (in 2010),” Kramer stated, noting that the city’s change from 2015 was $1.05 less on a $100,000 home. “And that’s including a 30 cent per hour raise across the board.”

Breaking down the 2015 tax bill, according to Kramer, the school district accounts for $1,197.71, or 38.5 percent, on a $100,000 of assessed value, while the city’s dividend is $911.88, or 29.3 percent. The county receives $842.39, or 27.1 percent of the total taxes, Southwest Tech is allotted $139.93, or 4.5 percent and $150 goes toward garbage service. Finally, the state receives $19.07, or 0.6 percent, from the figurative tax bill.

There are also three credits on tax bills, which, this year, included $161 for the school tax credit, $111.93 for the state lottery credit, and $69.29 for the First Dollar Credit.

Putting together a budget for 2016 was as meticulous a task as it always is for the city. Kramer said it all began the last week in October, which was about one month later than he usually likes to start the process.

“We had to wait until we knew [what employees] were participating in the new health insurance and at what level,” he explained. In early October, the common council approved a new two-year contract with the Western Wisconsin Municipal Consortium (WWMC), effective Jan. 1, 2016. “It equaled a savings in the tens of thousands of dollars, though it didn’t reduce our coverage. But for the first time, our employees can go to Crossing Rivers Health for in-network services.”

Once the health insurance details were compiled, Kramer figured a budget within three days and sent it off to the finance committee. Next, requests came in for more money from the individual departments. Also, the city’s community partners—i.e. the chamber, main street organization, economic development corporation—requested more contributions than normal.

“Those requests were at an all-time high, four times more than last year,” Kramer commented. “It took one very intense night of nearly three hours, where the finance committee, staff and myself discussed everything. This being my seventh budget, it was probably the hardest because we knew not everything was going to make the cut. Some things were funded and some were put in sort of a ‘hibernation’ category. Around the middle of the year, we’ll close another significant TIF district, we’ll know our 2015 surplus and our audit will be done. At that point, we will tackle that list.”

Kramer added that a record-high room tax in 2015, some property sales, as well as low overtime hours, fuel bills and snow plow costs should result in a decent surplus.

Two of the largest items that were not funded in this budget, he said, include sealcoating of the downtown streets ($70,000) and a skidsteer for the public works department ($40,000).

“Will they both survive? Yes,” he noted.

The city’s total budget for 2016 is $5,361,889.49 and that includes a 1 percent levy increase and a decrease in the mill rate.

“If we can keep our levy increases at or slightly below our level of growth, our mill rate will be stable or decrease slightly,” Kramer said. “We are seeing growth, and that’s how we can handle a levy increase.”

Kramer pointed out that the city has numerous large projects looming in the coming years. They include the library addition (2017), reconstruction of North Michigan Street (2017 or 2018) and phase two of Marquette Road (2018).

“We’d like to do some more street projects again next year, but you can’t eat an elephant in one bite,” Kramer said, meaning staff and the council will take one project at a time. “We have socked a little extra money away for pothole filling on Marquette.”

Knowing all this, what is Kramer’s outlook for the city going forward? When it comes to economic development, he believes Prairie du Chien is in good shape in terms of attracting companies.

“We have some really exciting things happening internally regarding companies that are already here too,” he stated. “We want to do everything we can to take a business from the dream stage to the brick and mortar stage. The collaboration and interaction between the city, chamber and economic development corporation has never been stronger.”

One area Kramer feels the city may still continue to struggle with is income levels and income growth. “We’re aware of it,” he said, “but not necessarily in control of what companies pay their employees.”

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