A handful of villages and cities in the Milwaukee metro area considerably outpaced their fellow municipalities when it came to spending and debt levels in 2010, according to a new report from the nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance.
In terms of debt per capita, Saukville ($3,353) and Sturtevant ($3,157) were in the top dozen among the 243 municipalities the Madison-based organization collected data on for its annual examination of municipal spending trends.
Bayside led in highest operations spending per person at $1,148, however, Village Manager Andy Pederson said that number is a bit skewed.
"We cannot quantify where they get their per capita numbers from," Pederson said. "Based off of our general fund tax levy and population, our numbers come in about $200 per person lower."
He also said that he attempted to contact the Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance for information on how they determined their numbers, but never received a response.
And when it comes to the debt service, Bayside was fifth-highest at $2,273. The figure is impacted by borrowing for the North Shore Fire Department.
Each of the seven municipalities served by the North Shore Fire Department rotates borrowing on behalf of the fire department, because NSFD doesn't have taxing or borrowing authority. When a project is necessary for NSF in one community — for example, Station 5 in Bayside — the home municipality does all the borrowing and has the entire debt on its books. Other communities involved then reimburse that community.
“At the end of the day, everyone pays their proportional share," Pederson said.
It was a similar cirucmstance with the construction of the new Consolidated Dispatch Center. While the new center was a shared benefit for all seven communities and the fire department, because the facility was built in Bayside, the village did the borrowing.
"So while it looks as thogh the village’s debt is higher than what it is, much of that is being reimbursed by the other communities," Pederson said.
At the other end of the debt spectrum, Greendale was reported to have $1 of debt per capita.
The report also showed spending on operations among the municipalities. Sussex ranked the most frugal among the 18 Milwaukee-area communities in Patch's coverage area with $499 per capita in 2010.
The average spending on operations per capita for the Wisconsin municipalities studied was $838.
Approximately two-thirds of municipal spending for operations is concentrated in general government administration, street maintenance, law enforcement and fire-ambulance services, the report indicated. On average, communities spent $560 per capita in these basic spending areas, about 1 percent more than they did in 2009.
The report also reflected the anemic economy of the last decade with municipal expenditures and debt amounts slowing. The report showed municipal spending rose 1.3 percent in 2010 after declining in 2009 for the first time in more than a decade, well off the 4.2 percent annual average increase from 2000 to 2008.
The report also indicated debt rose 3.5 percent — the second-smallest increase in a decade — in the state's most populous municipalities in 2010.
"People are like, '(Taxes) keep going up but my pay check is not going up or I have been out of a job for a year.' So there is that sentiment that we need to be restraining some of our expenses and what we are spending money on," said Paula Schafer, finance director for the City of Greenfield.
The restrained spending on the part of cities and villages has been caused by economic constraints municipal leaders face. The poor economy and the bursting of the real estate bubble has put downward pressure on revenues, forcing municipal budget offices to decrease spending.
"We have 2007 accelerated anxiety about spending more, but I remember every year saying it's a tough budget," said Shorewood Village Manager Chris Swartz, who noted that municipal spending has been constrained due to levy limits during the last decade.
Shorewood spent $884 per capita for operations in 2010, about $50 more than the state average, the report indicated.
"We still think we need to deliver those services like we always have and not compromise," Swartz said, adding village officials have been instructed to create lean processes and think strategically about the budget process.
Given collective bargaining reforms, the conservative fiscal policies of lawmakers in Madison and an economy that continues to stagnate, municipal spending is likely to stay somewhat flat in the near future.
"As employees pay a bigger share of health insurance and pension overall spending numbers are going to decline," said Dale J. Knapp, research director of the Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance. "The question is going to become where are municipalities going focus their resources because they're going have to be, in these tight budgets, they've got to really prioritize."
How the 18 municipalities in the Patch coverage area compare in population, per-capita operations spending and per-capita debt in 2010.
Source: Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance