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Village of Mukwonago residents trash refuse collection fee

Nov. 20, 2012

Village of Mukwonago - While several items in the 2013 village budget presentation brought comments from residents, it was the $50 recycling fee they trashed the most, prompting trustees to remove the item and dip into reserve funds to balance the budget.

Residents commended Village Clerk/Treasurer Steve Braatz for his budget presentation, which made the budget easier to understand, but all opposed an additional user fee for recycling. The proposal called for an annual $50 recycling fee for residential customers. Commercial properties that use the service are charged for a majority of the collection fee, which increased due to a cost-of-living adjustment, according to Braatz, as well as paying for the service through taxes. Owners of vacant property pay for the service as well through taxes, but do not use the recycling service.

In the end, the total of the $9 million 2013 budget remained, but $115,000 was shifted out of the general fund and into the fund for refuse collection. The budget - $800,000 less than the 2012 budget of $9.8 million - reflects losing more than $60,000 from transportation aid and shared revenue from the state for 2013, on top of the $135,000 lost in 2012.

The total 2012 property tax levy increased $43,000, going from $5.02 million in 2011 to $5.06 million for 2012. While the final tax rate won't be determined until around the beginning of December, Braatz said, the estimated tax rate for village residents in Waukesha County is $7.36 per $1,000 of assessed value, up about 70 cents over the 2011 taxes of $6.66 per $1,000. Walworth County residents can expect an estimated 2012 tax rate of $6.41 per $1,000 of value, an increase of 94 cents over the 2011 tax rate of $5.47 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Following the 2012 revaluations for village residents living in Waukesha County, properties that had a reduction in assessment from 2011 of more than 9.6 percent will see a reduction in taxes, according to Braatz. An owner of a $250,000 home in 2012 would pay about the same tax as in 2011, if the home was valued at $273,000.

In Walworth County, most residents were reassessed in 2011. An owner of a $250,000 home in Walworth County would pay a tax of $1,600 in 2012 or about $231 more than in 2011.

Residents say no

Residents questioned the need for two police squads in the budget, asking why both cars had to be purchased in the same year. Eyebrows rose over the loss of more than $14,000 for firehouse rent because of a new Fire Department agreement with the Town of Mukwonago. While some liked the proposed joint venture with the Town of Mukwonago Recreation Department, it added $34,500 in expenditures for the village.

Shifting to an annual $50 fee to cover part of the total $167 recycling cost to residents who use the garbage and recycling service would have given the village $115,000 in revenue; however, residents saw it as another fee that many property owners can't afford to pay.

"It's just another way that you people want to keep hitting us with fees that we can't pay," said Don Kazmier. "People are out of work, but you keep tacking on."

Resident Denis Maddox felt the village would increase the fee over time, giving the village funds to pay for "unnecessary wants."

"It's just another way to pay for wants instead of necessary needs," Maddox said. "You can increase that slowly so no one notices it going up. I guess you need to really determine what is needed and separate wants from needs."

Ryan Ziegler liked merging the village with the Town of Mukwonago Recreation Department, but was disappointed in the user fee for recycling. Ziegler said he would prefer the fee be included on the tax bill because then property owners could deduct it off their income tax as part of their property taxes.

"We all know fees generally go up in time," Ziegler explained. "I see that fee increasing over time to fill the number."

Elliot Bakst was against the user fee, stating it would cause "monetary harm to village taxpayers not only this year, but could be more of a burden in later years."

Bakst felt the board was "trying to circumvent state law," by sidestepping state levy limits on municipalities instead of holding a referendum to exceed that levy limit.

"I feel a user fee is a tax no matter what it is called, and if a referendum is not held, it could be circumventing the state law and the intent of those who passed it," Bakst said.

Mary Pires agreed with Bakst.

"The honest thing to do would have been to put it to referendum and ask the taxpayers if they are willing to support that, and if they can they would vote the right way," said Pires.

Pires also didn't like the loss of revenue from the firehouse rent, saying village taxpayers paid a lot for the fire station and removing the firehouse rent from the budget was "sort of giving it to the town so they don't have to build a fire station."

Village reaction

Braatz said he checked with municipalities in Waukesha and Walworth counties and many charge for the entire recycling fees. Braatz explained the fee as the best use of tax dollars instead of property owners paying for a service based on the value of the property, even if it is vacant property that doesn't need recycling service.

President Fred Winchowky explained the fee was an effort to make refuse costs more uniform and fair.

"We knew we were going to get some people against it because it's change," Winchowky said.

However, Trustee Jim Decker defended Trustee Darlene Johnson's motion to remove the recycling fee from the budget.

"These people are saying they'll pay it but put it on the budget," Decker added.

With changes to state revenue to municipalities, Trustee Mike Sellenheim told residents that municipalities are looking at ways to continue the services people desire.

"We're being squeezed very heavily in trying to maintain services people want," Sellenheim said.

The board voted unanimously to approve the budget with the recycling fee removed.

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