RIVER FALLS — Running a city of 15,000 residents means dozens of accounts for municipal departments, infrastructure projects and other funds with a two-year proposed budget of more than $82.5 million.
“It takes three pages in 8-point font to lay out all the different checkbooks, so to speak, or businesses that we have within the city,” Administrator Scot Simpson said at a budget workshop Oct. 20 detailing the 2021-2022 River Falls budget.
City Council will hold a public hearing before voting on the budget at the Tuesday night, Nov. 10, meeting. Here are four takeaways from the 156-page document:
1. Flat levy for average taxpayers
First things first, how will the budget affect property taxes? Nearly $7 million will come from taxpayers next year, according to the proposal. Though that represents a 1.98% levy increase, new construction added to the tax base means the average taxpayer will not see an increase to the city portion of their property taxes for 2021.
As a reminder, the city represents only a portion of a homeowner’s total property tax bill, along with county and school tax levies. That means taxes can differ depending on if a property falls within St. Croix County or Pierce County.
The city originally projected a higher levy increase, but came in lower due to cost-saving measures this year in response to COVID-19, including a hiring freeze and limits on staff spending. The proposed budget also is 10% lower than the 2019-2020 budget, due in large part to outsourcing of the city's ambulance service to Allina Health, according to the budget document.
2. Focus on financial sustainability
The guiding theme of the 2021-2022 budget is financial sustainability. That means carrying over cost-saving measures in the city’s pandemic response plan, including mostly maintaining the aforementioned hiring freeze.
The other two themes in the budget are
- long-term strategic growth, and
- continued investment in infrastructure.
3. Ongoing infrastructure projects
On the topic of infrastructure, the city has a number of big capital projects continuing into next year.
- [JARGON WATCH: Capital project — a term for major construction, maintenance or acquisition of physical assets. This can include putting up a new building or reconstructing a roadway.]
The capital improvement plan for 2021 is estimated at $3.5 million. Most of that will come from the city’s Enterprise Fund (45%) and borrowing (35%), with 6% funded directly by property taxes.
Among the expenditures budgeted for 2021:
- $800,000 for DeSanctis Park as the city looks to develop the area as its third regional park.
- $450,000 for the purchase and remodel of the new police station at 2815 Prairie Drive on the north end of town.
- $210,000 for reconstructing South Wasson Lane. The design phase of the $3.9 million project will begin in 2021. The project, which includes a roundabout at Cascade Avenue, will be funded 80% by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Surface Transportation Program.
- $60,000 for design work to replace the deck of the Powell Avenue Bridge over the Kinnickinnic River. The city will seek to share costs with WisDOT for the estimated $1 million project in 2022.
4. River Falls by the numbers
In addition to spending and tax information, the biennial budget document compiles demographics and other city statistics.
- 77.9 — the number of miles of streets and alleys in River Falls.
- 850 — estimated number of people employed by the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, the city’s largest employer.
- 25 — new single-family home construction permits in 2020. That’s down from 76 in 2019.