“The only way we got through last year was making adjustments to room tax, but that’s a one-time solution.”
By Brandi Makuski
City leaders this month gave a final stamp of approval for creating a full-time ordinance control officer.
The position was created last July as 20-hour-per-week spot with a starting wage of $12.92 per hour, according to City Treasurer Corey Ladick. The city council approved changing the job to a full-time position on June 20.
Last year, Ladick told the council there was some funding left in the community development budget to partially fund the position for the remainder of 2015, but said there would be “some impact on the operating budget in 2016, although this position would have the ability to generate revenue”.
But Mayor Mike Wiza said the ordinance control officer position was “never designed to be an in-the-black position”.
“We knew we’d take a hit, if you will, on this position, but the important thing we want to convey to the public is that we’re only after compliance with city ordinances,” Wiza said. “This position isn’t a revenue-generator; it’s one that just enforces ordinances already in place.”
Dan Trelka, the city’s first ordinance control officer who was employed in the position for about eight months, brought in about half of the $55,216 in fees and charges over the 1,390 building violations assessed in 2015. Trelka left the position in April and has not yet been replaced.
“[Ordinance] violations will still be handled within our department, by the building inspectors,” said Michael Ostrowski, community development director. The position of ordinance control officer will likely be filled, he added, when the city has finished updating property maintenance codes. That process has already been underway for a number of months.
“I want to get updates to our codes complete prior to getting a new person on board, as it’s likely to make the training process for that individual easier,” Ostrowski said.
As a part-time position, Ladick estimated the 2016 cost of the part-time position would be $17,500. Moving forward, he said the full-time position is expected to cost the city $34,500, including the offset brought in by revenue from ordinance violations.
Ladick said the burden to the city budget could be lessened by increasing fees for inspections and building permits provided by the inspection department.
“If we would make that adjustment, to move some of that [cost] off the [tax] levy to assess the full cost of a building inspection to the entity that built it, then you’re making some room in the budget for funding this position,” Ladick said.
Ladick added he “feels bad” about the change because some departments in city government have for years been requesting an additional position, but that’s not something he controls.
“There are a number of departments that have asked for new positions for quite a while that have been waiting in line, and there was never any money to do it,” Ladick said, noting both fire and police departments have been requesting additional personnel for some time. “We haven’t been able to do that in the past few budgets, but we do have other departments that have been waiting.”
But Ladick said the new full-time position brings an ongoing problem to the forefront. Ladick said he’s tried for months to impress upon the common council that the city has a “very limited pot of money” to work with.
“We have to keep in mind — especially when we start spending money before the budget process, or making commitments before the budget process — at this point we haven’t really had a chance to see next year’s budget yet,” Ladick said. “There’s a lot of give-and-take as far as, ‘OK, because we spent money on this, we may not have money for this’,” he said. “And that’s one of my concerns, especially when people are talking about creating a new position mid-year.”
With the city deep into talks about its future location, Ladick also pointed out the city had a potentially significant long-term cost for a new facility. In the face of a new county government building, the city could have an option to remain in its downtown location at the courthouse — which needs as much as $7 million in remodeling — or a potential hefty expense in building new, or moving to another existing building and remodeling.
No decisions have been finalized, and Ladick said that unknown, likely long-term cost is part of the reason behind his concerns, which he’s voiced several times before the council.
“We have to set priorities,” Ladick said. “I worry about that because I think over the past couple of years we’ve been able to find solutions to many of our budget problems, to kind of resolve it fairly painlessly — but I’m also running out of rabbits to pull out of my hat.”
In recent years, the city has seen tight restrictions on property taxes, which are tied to new construction within city limits, coupled with a decrease in state aid. A reduction in Exempt Computer Aid — a state tax exemption beneficial for a business’ bottom line, but one that lessens taxable property in the city — and the city’s newly-implemented pay play also add to the burden, he said, with no commensurate change in revenue.
“The only way we got through last year was making adjustments to room tax, but that’s a one-time solution,” Ladick said. “We figured that out so we don’t have to cut positions or services, but at some point I’m going to run out of ideas. We might exhaust those options. I don’t know how much people realize how difficult that is, that we just don’t have extra money.”