Whitefish Bay Village Board candidates sound off on the issues
Five men running for two trustee seats
Editor's note: Whitefish Bay village trustee candidate Robert Crawford declined to be interviewed for this story.
Whitefish Bay - Village Board candidates differ when it comes to tough choices on the horizon, like how to pay for the village's costly stormwater overhaul, how to balance future budgets, and whether to give consideration to the idea of consolidating Whitefish Bay with area police departments.
Incumbent trustee Jay Miller, along with newcomers Ken Wysocky, Carl Fuda, Kevin McMahon and Robert Crawford are running for two seats on the board.
A Feb. 19 primary will knock one of them out of the running.
Here's what they think on a variety of Whitefish Bay issues.
Village officials are working out details to pay for the estimated $105 million, 15-year capitol improvement plan, a large part of which will revamp the village's stormwater sewer system and prevent catastrophic flooding like in the summer of 2010.
The candidates agreed the work is necessary.
"We need to address this," Miller said. "There's no way we can turn our back on it, but we need to do so in a prudent and careful way."
Miller and Fuda say the phased approach of the plan, which will fund and distribute the projects across the 15 years, offers an advantage in that the village will be able to re-examine the stormwater system periodically and determine whether to go forward with the later projects.
"Plans don't always turn out as planned," Fuda said of the incremental approach.
The village is also working out how to distribute the costs of the work. In conjunction with taxes levied to pay off stormwater work related debt, the village is working on plans to implement a stormwater utility, which would charge property owners based on their usage of the stormwater system based on their property's runoff.
"I'd like to see if this has been done in any other municipalities the size of Whitefish Bay," McMahon of the utility said, "and see how other places in the country have done this, and how it has worked out."
A fee tied to usage would mean tax-exempt entities like churches and the Jewish Community Center would be paying for the overhaul as well. At the same the School District, which owns a large amount of impervious surface area, would need to pay in as well.
Since the district already runs a lean budget, candidates think there will need to be negotiation between the village and the district.
Fuda indicated the district should be exempt from the utility.
"There has to be some more formal recognition that this is all a single village with a single set of residents paying a single tax bill," he said, "irrespective of whether it goes to the school of the village."
"It's a tough question to answer until we have a better picture of how much cost we're looking at for the school district," Wysocky said.
Police chiefs and administrators from Glendale, Shorewood and Whitefish Bay began talks last summer over the possibility of consolidating the three police departments to reduce overhead.
Miller, McMahon and Wysocky all said village officials should have an open mind.
"I'm all in favor of having discussions," said Miller, though he added the consolidation would have to increase public safety, and that he wouldn't want to "subsidize" the cost of a new Shorewood police station.
McMahon and Wysocky similarly said they would need compelling proof to go forward with the change.
Fuda, on the other hand, opposes the consolidation outright.
"Sometimes we lose sight that (police are a) foundation that needs to be reinforced," said Fuda, referencing a recent incident of a student who was robbed on her way to the high school. "It makes no sense to me knowing what I know today."
Fuda added he has suspicions of a "pecking order" arising between different types of calls between communities.
With the help of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, Whitefish Bay began inspecting sewer laterals - the pipes which connect homes to village sewer mains - in the southeast end of the village, finding nearly all the laterals in need of work. Preliminary estimates put lateral repairs, ranging from relining to repairs and replacements, between $2,000 to $8,000 per lateral.
Village staff plans to assess property owners for the work and continue until laterals around the whole village have been inspected and repaired.
"It makes sense to do them all," said McMahon, who had his lateral repaired several years ago in a separate project and is paying off the assessment now. "In the long run, it has to be done."
Fuda and Miller commented that the village should leverage the size of the project with contracts to get a group rate.
"We're hoping that we can negotiate with whoever does the work so we can get a discount," Miller said. "The expectation is the whole village is going to be subject to this."
Wysocky wants the village to pursue state or federal grants to help pay for the cost of the work.
"You'd hope the village is considering all grants to be sure we're covering all our bases," he said.
Wysocky also said the village should look into purchasing its own equipment to reline and repair the laterals if it would be more cost effective to have the DPW make the fixes.
Balancing the budget
In the background of all the village budgeting process is the recent tax levy limit laws enacted by state legislators, which limit the amount of any increase to the amount of net new construction in the village - essentially creating a dichotomy in which the village can grow the tax base or trim the budget to mitigate inflation as time goes on.
All the candidates pointed toward the Silver Spring business district as a way to grow the city and liven up the downtown feel of the village.
"The village should do everything it can to encourage development," Wysocky said, "especially in the Silver Spring district."
"Seeing so many restaurants come and go so quickly, it would be nice to see something with more staying power, something to make the street more exciting," McMahon said.
The candidates pointed in a number of different directions when asked what they would cut from the village budget if they had to.
Miller said the village's recent switch in health insurance provider, which saved an estimated $622,000, is a good example of cost cutting.
"Those are the kinds of things we have to keep our eye on," Miller said. He added that if push comes to shove, the village would have to look at cutting staff.
"There's no other option," he said.
Fuda noted that, as a businessman, "there's always five percent somewhere." His plan would be to go to village administrators first.
"If we're in a situation where we have to cut something, I would look to them for preliminary recommendations," Fuda said, "and they should look to us for strategic ideas."
McMahon said the village would have to "take a hard look" at day-to-day operations, and look at its "nonessential" functions.
"There's got to be places to look," he said.
Wysocky similarly commented that village administrators would need to comb through village costs, though he also mentioned the police consolidation.
"It never hurts to re-examine budgets and make sure everything is as buttoned down as it can be," said Wysocky, adding of the police merger, "we can't afford to be parochial about these kinds of issues."
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