Lahner says 2012 proposal will be ‘fairly austere’

By Jennifer Eisenbart

Staff writer

Thanks to a new addition to the City of Burlington budget process, City Administrator Kevin Lahner believes the city is significantly ahead of where it has been in the past in terms of planning.

That said, Lahner doesn’t think there is much pizzazz in the current plans for the 2012 budget.

“It’s fairly boring,” Lahner said with a bit of a laugh Tuesday afternoon. “Last year was also fairly austere.”

In looking at the budget process for 2012, Lahner said there are some pretty clear decisions that have already been made for them by the state.

“I don’t think you can understate the position that we’re in where we have to do more with less,” Lahner said. “To that end, our budget reflects that.”

The City of Burlington took a $69,500 hit in shared revenue from the state this year, as well as took a loss of $50,055 in transportation aid.

Add in the fact that Gov. Scott Walker’s Budget Repair Act does not allow communities to raise taxes, and there is more tightening of the belts.

“We continue to focus on efficiency,” Lahner said. “That’s really reflected in our budget.

“I’m really proud of the work we were able to do.”

Part of the budget process this year was a specially created group called “Citizen Budget Partners,” where each alderman and the mayor invited citizens to participate in budget discussions.

Those citizens were asked, after three meetings regarding the budget, to provide the city with their priorities for the 2011-12 process.

Each of 10 members was given 15 green stickers, “dots,” to place on 15 different priorities that had been previously discussed. Each person could place up to three dots on any given topic, with three being the most important and zero indicating no importance.

Among the items that received the most dots – and most support – were maintaining the current level of essential city services and providing economic development incentives to attract and retain industrial and manufacturing development.

Those involved with the process also indicated that funding for maintaining the current road maintenance budget was a priority, as well as the city continuing to fund its equipment replacement account.

Lahner said Tuesday that the citizen involvement has generated a great deal of positive response.

“I’ve heard nothing but positive feedback on it,” Lahner said. “Some good suggestions from our partners.”

The city had one final budget workshop on Wednesday, and another planned if necessary, but Lahner thought the majority of the issues would be ironed out this week.

“Really, we’re fairly close to being done, with the exception of getting some numbers that always come in at the last minute,” said Lahner, pointing to the insurance renewal and the assessed value of manufacturers in the city.

He also said a move by the city to restructure a number of positions – including not filling an open police officer spot, cutting a community-service officer, cutting a part-time custodian and reducing hours for City Building Inspector Pat Scherrer – has helped.

“We have slowly reduced positions where appropriate,” Lahner said of the process over this year and the past several years.