NEW RICHMOND -- The City Council held an emergency session Monday, March 23, ahead of the expected announcement by Gov. Tony Evers to institute a “safer-at-home” policy on Tuesday. He urged the closing of all non-essential businesses while reinforcing in stronger terms residents stay at home in an effort to “flatten the curve” of what is expected to be a significant rise in COVID-19 infections.

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Aside from the mayor, council members, City Administrator Mike Darrow, Assistant City Administrator Rae Anne Ailts and Police Chief Craig Yehlik, city staffers joined the media and interested residents in viewing the session remotely on YouTube.

“I don’t know if any of us expected to be here in our lifetime but here we are. In the uncharted times that we find ourselves, we want to discuss with the council tonight, actions designed to ensure that as a community we are in this together. We want to continue to make sure that the decisions we make today will keep us, as a city, in a good financial position as well as ensure that the services we rely on remain intact and ready to serve on a continual basis,” Ailts said.

Ailts walked council members through a fiscal projection of the city reserves and eight cost savings measures over the next nine months. The City is incorporating the balanced approach to reducing expenditures while continuing operations into its New Richmond Strong initiative.

The city is projecting a decline in revenue from building permits, room tax, fines, others fees and interest totaling $450,000.

To counter that, the administration proposed three actions:

  • The combination of eight cost savings measures to the general fund and utility that could potentially save $630,500 over the next nine months.

  • A cash infusion from an inter-fund transfer from the utility of $250,000 if necessary.

  • A cash infusion of an additional $750,000 by drawing down the city’s emergency reserve from 31% to 20% if necessary.

The cost saving measures include:

  • All staff will forgo one pay period by the end of the year -- $127,000.

  • Supply and operating budgets will be reduced by 25% -- $177,000.

  • 2020 intern and summer staff will not be hired -- $75,000.

  • The city will not funding the library director position for the balance of 2020 -- $90,000.

  • Street lights will be turned on at reduced hours or in reduced numbers (except near the hospital and major arterial roads) -- $85,000.

  • All contracts will be eliminated for 2020. Legal expenses will be reduced.

  • Training, staff development and wellness programs will be eliminated -- $38,500.

  • Downtown Decor and Facade Grants would be eliminated in 2020 -- $28,000.

Council members acknowledged the unprecedented economic challenges as well as the extraordinary sacrifices being made by staff. Those sacrifices elicited a prolonged discussion.

Chief Yehlik shared his thoughts following a meeting with his staff earlier in the day.

“They understand that there’s probably going to be concessions, that there’s not as much income coming into the city. What they found most palatable if we move forward with this would be, to try to extend that (pay reduction) over a number of pay periods. As union members they know they don’t have to do this, but a lion’s share of my agency stopped me mid sentence and said, “Hey we’ll do whatever we need to do.” That's the kind of employees you have working here at the City. We are a family. We’re very much in tune with keeping people employed. They’re willing to sacrifice to make sure the city still runs and that the services aren’t interrupted,” said Yehlik.

Mayor Fred Horne set an example for his fellow council members.

“We need to show some leadership and share in some of that pain as well. It’s been a great honor to serve on this Council for many years. I’m committed to give back to this community a portion of my check. It’s shared pain for all of us I guess is what I’m saying,” said Mayor Horne.

Council members unanimously approved giving the administration authority to implement the cost saving measures as it sees fit going forward.

Consolidated government

Council members also approved the reorganization of the city government into four departments: Emergency Management; Administration, Finance and Human Resources; Public Facilities and Management; and Community Outreach.

This will allow for minimal on-site, in-person staffing while still enabling staff operating remotely to contribute, officials said. It will ensure that fundamental city services including law enforcement, fire and rescue, and utilities continue without disruption. And it establishes a no-frills chain of command to streamline operations so they can be efficient and effective under the current conditions of duress for as long as necessary.

A complete description of department responsibilities can be found at mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?tab=rm&ogbl#inbox?projector=1

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