By Patricia Bogumil
Included in the proposed 2013 budget for the Waterford Sanitary District are echoes of pledges made in this year’s contentious recall of the District’s former president, Bill Gerard, by its current president, Dan Dickinson.
The WSD budget proposal will be presented at the Town Hall for elector approval on Wednesday, Dec. 12. The 2013 budget proposal is posted online under the “Documents” tab on the District’s website: townofwaterfordsd.com.
• In the 2013 proposal, day-to-day District operating costs (such as gas for vehicles, heat, employee salaries and insurance) are down 10 percent. That drop in spending fulfills a campaign pledge he made during the recall, said Dickinson.
Also, the 2013 budget proposal will soon make good on a second pledge to reduce user rates, Dickinson said.
Residential quarterly user fees, which climbed to $118.50 in 2012, will drop in 2013 anywhere from 5 percent ($112.58) to 8 percent ($109.02), he predicted.
The exact amount of the fee drop will be calculated after final tweaks to the 2013 budget are made in the next few months, according to Dickinson.
“This 2013 budget proposal is not the end state,” he explained, adding: “We hit some speed bumps.”
With commissioners and staff working under state submittal deadlines, the 2013 WSD budget proposal is a work in progress that will be finalized after the new year, Dickinson explained.
The 2013 WSD budget reflects sharp cuts in employee insurance costs, retirement costs and legal costs – all issues that were part of the recall landscape.
• The current group health insurance contract with United Healthcare expires Dec. 31.
During the recall, it was frequently maligned as too expensive and offering “Cadillac” benefits.
Dickinson said various other plan options offered by United Healthcare are being explored for coverage extending into 2013.
There is also the possibility of a switch to a State of Wisconsin employee trust fund that could occur in April 2013, said Dickinson.
In the 2013 WSD budget proposal, employee insurance costs are cut $8,568 from 2012.
• The 2013 budget proposal also anticipates a change in retirement benefits offered to the three full-time employees.
Currently, two employees each receive $22,000 annually in retirement fund contributions from the District; a third employee receives $16,500 – monies that are paid by WSD in addition to the employees’ wages.
In 2013, the budget anticipates a total of $16,200 paid in employee retirement benefits, down $44,300 from what was budgeted in 2012.
In 2013, the retirement plan will likely involve a WSD match of contributions paid in by the employees, up to a fixed limit, Dickinson predicted.
That issue is expected to be discussed and voted on Dec. 12 immediately after the 2013 budget hearing, when commissioners hold their next regular monthly meeting.
• Legal fees of $8,000 are proposed in the 2013 budget – up $3,000 from the $5,000 in the 2012 budget.
But the estimated amount actually paid for legal fees in 2012 is $25,838 – or nearly $18,000 more than the $8,000 budgeted in 2013.
Dickinson said he is absolutely sure the District will be able to keep its legal costs at the $8,000 level budgeted for next year.
Two lawyers are onboard for WSD legal services in 2013. Attorney Michael Dubis will handle most of the District’s legal work; attorney Bob Hankel of Racine will focus on human resources/employee legal issues.
• The 2013 budget proposal also addresses the possible need for major equipment replacements totaling $118,000, as well as an estimated $60,000 in state-mandated expenses related to District manhole work in the state’s Highway 164 project due to start in March.
Among the expected major equipment costs are $94,000 for lift station telemetry upgrades. Dickinson said current equipment is 24 years old and no longer supported by software. The equipment serves as a vital communication link between the District’s lift stations, each of which can serve around 300 homes, and the WSD operations department.
To pay for the expected $178,000 in equipment/manhole costs, Dickinson said WSD will borrow from itself – specifically from the more than $600,000 currently sitting in a reserves fund.
Dickinson said he will request in January 2013 that the WSD board make a resolution to commit $25,000 per year in the budget to build up that reserves fund from the monies being borrowed.
He said having a stated resolution in place will help reverse a past trend of taking money out of the reserves fund, but not replenishing it.
• Monies budgeted in the WSD Operations and Maintenance contingency fund (a newly created line item with $122,356 in the 2013 proposal) will be revisited in the first or second quarter of 2013, Dickinson said. “We’ll refine the contingency and I will propose a user rate reduction for 2013 in 2013,” Dickinson said.
He explained that the gap between District operating expenses and revenue exceeds $147,000 in surplus funds. Deducting $25,000 from surplus to be used in 2013 for reserves fund replacement leaves $122,354 now temporarily “parked” in the budget’s new contingency fund.
That move serves two purposes, said Dickinson.
It allows WSD to be more precise in budgeting line items and removing excessive “safety margins” line item by line item.
It also keeps excess budget revenue in one place, “so we can perform further budget analysis early in 2013.”
Before going into effect, changes proposed to the approved 2013 WSD budget will need approval from electors at a public hearing, according to both the District’s attorney and its accountant, Dickinson added.
• The 2013 WSD budget proposal will be presented Dec. 12 at a public hearing that begins at 6 p.m. Immediately afterward, the WSD board will hold its regular monthly meeting.