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Wednesday

July 2014

23

Legal costs strain Butler budget

Village of Butler — The legal costs associated with allegations of misconduct in the Police Department is straining an already-stressed village budget for 2014.

Administrator Kayla Chadwick warned the Village Board last week that it cannot continue to provide the existing level of services in the village with the present financial structure.

Chadwick later told the Sussex Sun that it may take a combination of reduced spending, increased tax levies and additional fees to put the village on a more-stable financial footing.

She explained that the village's tax levy of about $1.5 million dollars has not been significantly increased in the past several years, even though real estate tax revenues account for about half of the approximately $3 million in revenues.

At the same time, however, the cost of providing services has experienced natural inflationary increases, in addition to more-dramatic increases in costs such as legal fees and road salt.

The Police Department accounts for $865, 618 of the approximate $3.03 million budget for 2014.

According to documents obtained by the Sussex Sun, in 2013, costs for legal counseling were nearly $70,000 over budget.

Initially, the Village Board had budgeted $11,500, but wound up spending $81,339.52, nearly all of it apparently associated with an investigation of misconduct in the department.

The investigation by the Waukesha County Sheriff's Department early last year revealed numerous incidents of misconduct by most of the department's seven-man force. The report cited Chief Michael Cosgrove and some of his officers for watching pornography on village computers while they were on duty during a day shift.

Cosgrove retired as a result of the investigation. One officer was suspended for three days, and two others were given written reprimands.

Lt. Brian Pergande has been on paid administrative leave for the past year as a result of the investigation, at an estimated cost to village taxpayers of about $85,000 in salary and benefits.

Chadwick predicted legal counseling fees will exceed the $13,000 included in the 2014 budget, but she does not yet know by how much.

She is also anticipating more police overtime this year because, in addition to Pergande's paid leave, another officer is serving a 20-day suspension because of allegations of misconduct. A third officer is absent on paternity leave.

Legal fees and the police budget are not the only problems.

Chadwick's warning to the board last week echoed the sentiments expressed by her predecessor, Jessie Thyes, when he drafted the 2014 budget late last year.

He warned the village faced "difficult funding choices" and suggested that a possible reduction in services and increases in user fees, along with careful allocation of staff resources, would be keys to managing the budget. He added that early closure of a tax increment financing (TIF) district would be "perhaps the most integral budgetary aspect to consider ..."

But Chadwick does not think it will be feasible to close the TIF district early, even though it would represent an additional $400,000 in revenue.

She thinks the Village Board should take advantage of state-allowed exemptions to state-imposed levy limits. She said the village has not taken advantage of the exemptions since 2011.

Taking advantage of the exemptions would permit the village to increase its tax levy. The existing levy results in a village tax rate of $6.79 per $100,000 assessed valuation.

She said the Village Board may also have to consider increases in various municipal fees and fines.

She said the village staff will work with contractors and vendors to more carefully assess what services are being provided and how the services can be rendered more efficiently at less cost.

At the end of 2013, the village had to transfer about $68,000 from general fund cash reserves — its savings account — into the general fund to make up for the shortfall between revenues and expenses in the 2013 operating budget.

The village cannot continue that practice, according to Chadwick, because there is only about $200,000 remaining in reserve funds, money that is meant to be used only in emergencies.

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