Tax increasers take control of West Bend
After years of fiscal restraint and conservative management of the budget, the tax increasers have regained control of the West Bend Common Council. Property owners in the city of West Bend will see their first tax increase in almost a decade. Why? Because they could.
At the dawn of this decade, the city of West Bend was in fiscal trouble. The city was almost $80 million in debt, the debt payments were choking funding for necessary services, and the reserve fund was depleted. The voters swept into office a cadre of pragmatic, principled conservatives and a mayor who took on the city’s problems head on. They reined in spending, paid the debt down to $53 million, almost tripled the reserve fund, and did all of this while keeping taxes flat. They knew that it could be done and they did it.
West Bend’s tax increasers have been gaining steam on the Common Council over the last couple of years. Frustrated with fiscal constraint and fueled by gasses oozing from the swamp, the tax increasers have been forwarding the notion that the city can no longer keep taxes flat. They contend that government has been “cut to the bone” and that it would be better to raise taxes a little every year to avoid having to control spending. It is a toxic attitude that leads to wasteful spending and oppressive tax burdens.
Last week’s vote by the council to raise taxes signals a shift in power on the Common Council and the end of an era of conservative governance in West Bend. The council did not raise taxes because they needed to. They raised taxes because they wanted to.
Thanks to the smart fiscal management and spending restraint of the past few years, the city has been able to free up budget and generate surpluses to pay off debt and add to the city’s reserves. The city maintains a reserve fund in order to have money to cover emergencies. Maintaining a well-funded reserve fund also impacts the city’s bond rating. The Government Officers Finance Association recommends that municipalities keep 17% of the next year’s budget in their reserve funds. As of 2018, the city of West Bend had over 28% of next year’s budget in their reserve fund. In other words, the reserve fund is fully funded — and then some. At the conclusion of the 2018 budget year, the city had a $570,115 surplus, which the city added to the reserve fund. In the current budget year, the city is on track to have another surplus of about $500,000. Facing a $151,100 increase in projected expenses next year, the 2020 operating budget that was just approved by the Common Council would raise taxes to meet those expenses and put the forecasted 2019 surplus into the already well-funded reserve fund.
In short, the Common Council chose to raise taxes when they did not have to. There is more than enough tax revenue to fund the city budget, but they are going to raise taxes anyway.
Council members Andrew Chevalier, Chris Jenkins, and Rich Kasten (who is running for mayor of West Bend) voted to not raise taxes. The city of West Bend needs more council members like these.
The Common Council members who voted to raise taxes were John Butschlick, Mark Allen, Steve Hoogester (who is also serving as the interim mayor), Justice Madl, and Roger Kist. These are the men who chose to raise taxes when it was not necessary or justifiable. Butschlick’s and Madl’s seats will both be on the ballot in April. If they choose to run for re-election, the voters should remember who voted to raise their taxes.
(Owen B. Robinson is a West Bend resident. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The council did not raise taxes because they needed to.They raised taxes because they wanted to.