By Shereen Siewert
Members of Wausau’s finance committee on Tuesday will review several supplemental budget requests totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars, with proposals ranging from closed captioning for Public Access to salary adjustments and a culture survey to establish strengths and weaknesses among city employees.
The Department of Public Works is seeking $50,000 in critical funding to increase the “hot mix” budget, part of an effort to repair larger patches of streets. DPW officials say they have a backlog of more than $90 million in street reconstruction and the funding is necessary to extend the life of pavement.
The Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department is seeking $58,000 in additional funds for Emerald Ash Borer maintenance. Staff began treating ash trees in 2019, but removing and replacing the trees increased in 2020 after the borer was confirmed in the Wausau area. This request has been earmarked as critical funding for the department. The Parks Department is also requesting adding an arborist to the staff, a 0.9 FTE equivalent to assist in the Emerald Ash Borer management plan. The Department seeks $50,221 for the position in a high, rather than critical, priority category. If funded, additional staff would be hired in the first quarter of 2022.
In addition, the Parks Department is seeking $21,888 for staff to assist with pool management and increased programming at the city’s three pools, which would be potentially offset by $5,000 in public charges for recreation programs and swim lessons. An additional $13,038 is sought to pay for staff, electric and plumbing expenses to allow the swim season at one neighborhood pool to be extended by two weeks. Pool admissions could defray $3,750 of those costs, the department estimates.
Another $55,219 critical funding request comes from Public Access to allow for a capital outlay and hardware support for closed captioning services, which would allow for live and real-time captioning on the Government Education channel and file-based captioning on the Public Channel. The proposed system would bring the city into FCC and ADA Title II compliance for one option of effective communication to the public, according to the request in public documents.
Mayor Katie Rosenberg is submitting a “high” priority request for $50,000 to defray the cost of the city’s upcoming Sesquicentennial Celebration, which will happen in 2022 when Wausau marks its 150th anniversary. In her request, Rosenberg said planning has just begun for the scope and duration of activities with costs likely exceeding $50,000.
“At the very least, there will likely be a weekend or all day celebration of some sort, with activities and some sort of entertainment, décor for around the city, and small, low cost events each month,” the request reads.
Wausau’s Human Resources Department is requesting $50,000 in critical funding for CDL Training funds, contractual services that would be offset by $15,000 in utility revenues. In 2020 and 2021, more than 100 applicants were rejected for not holding a CDL. This program would expand the city’s recruitment and retention capabilities, according to city documents.
The HR Department is also seeking $105,445 to address necessary retention and recruiting initiatives for staff. The proposed salary scale and vacation policy changes aim to attract and retain employees, the proposal states, which also includes $105,445 in potential revenue streams to offset the total. The department is also asking for $113,000 to advance salary progression for certain employees. Offsetting that request is an estimated $26,000 in parking, utility fee and other revenue moving forward.
In addition to those initiatives, the HR Department seeks $100,000 in contractual services to conduct a culture survey that would “establish the state of the current culture at the city (strengths and weaknesses) and use that information to improve the culture and employee performance. The surveys, similar to those used by Marathon County, would repeat every two years.
The Wausau Police and Fire Departments are seeking $30,000 in critical funding for a 0.6 FTE administrative assistant, a partnership between both departments that will help address an increasing amount of staff time required to process open records requests. Those requests have increased significantly with the addition of body cameras, which also requires additional time to process. The current backlog for reports is now three weeks, police say, leaving citizens frustrated over the wait time.
The Economic and Community Development Department is requesting a high-priority $30,000 for a 0.6 FTE administrative assistant, $10,000 of which would be offset by a Community Development Block Grant.
In the future there is potential to collaborate with the Marathon County and expand the duties of this position, which city officials say would create a better and more seamless record keeping and access, and customer service to all citizens of both Wausau and Marathon County.
According to city documents, as of Sept. 30 total General Fund expenditures are $25.6 million, which is an increase of about 1.5 percent over last year. Parks and Recreation spending is up 24 percent, which city officials say is due to opening parks and offering services unavailable in 2020.
Also in 2021, $900,000 was transferred from General Fund reserves to the Motor Pool, driving up general government expenses by about 21.2 percent. Public Works expenses are down by more than $500,000 compared to the prior year, due in part to the mild spring weather. City officials do caution that those savings could be offset if Wausau is faced with heavy winter weather in the final months of the year.
At 75% of the way through the year, 2021 expenditures across the departments are consistent with budget estimates, according to a Sept. 30 general fund statement.
The city’s Finance Department will meet at 5:15 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 407 Grant St., to discuss the requests. See the full packet of information including each proposal here.