Officer asks board why his position is being eliminated

Benefits increases, cuts in state aid make decisions tougher

Aug. 24, 2010

River Hills — Steven Weismueller likes his job. He's been a village police officer since 2008. He is also the person who will lose his job in January 2011 under the proposed village budget.

Trustees received their copies of the proposed budget on the same evening last week that Weismueller stopped in to introduce himself to the board.

"Two weeks ago the chief told me that I would be losing my job," Weismueller said. "I would like you to tell me why."

The answers center on two increases, one to the state retirement fund. The second is an anticipated 15 percent increase in health insurance costs. When the $45,917 increase in the retirement costs is added to the anticipated $40,000 increase in health insurance, the total is $85,917, slightly less than the $86,970 levy increase allowed under the state revenue limits.

Creating a spending plan for the village is never an easy job for those who have to make the decisions or for those who live with the consequences, but this year could be one of the most difficult years yet, according to village staff and officials.

Village President Robert Brunner said that while none of the budget decisions are even close to being final, the village is facing a potential loss of revenue from the state as well as those two increases.

"Last year we had a 15 percent cut in state shared revenue," he said. "We also had a cut in transportation aids."

State could cut more aid

With the state budget in a deficit crisis, Brunner said he expects additional cuts in state funding for 2011.

The village is preparing a budget with no more than the state-mandated 3 percent levy increase.

As proposed, the village would have a $3,969,921 budget supported by a $3,080,9141 in general property taxes and payments made in lieu of taxes. The remainder of the budget is supported by licenses and permits, income from traffic fines and forfeitures, state funds and other minor revenue sources.

"The (North Shore) Fire Department increase is not set yet," Village Manager Tom Tollaksen said.

There will be no pay raises for any village employee under the proposed budget in addition to the elimination of Weismueller's job.

Since the board received the budget during its meeting, there was little discussion about its specifics.

Health insurance eyed

Trustee Mike White suggested the village should look into other health insurers after learning the village cost for a family's insurance is $20,000 under the state plan now in place.

"That is a staggering amount," he said.

There are 35 employees who are covered by the family plan, Tollaksen said. The state plan does not differentiate between an employee with spouse and an employee with spouse and children nor does it make exceptions if family members are eligible for Medicare, he added.

Tollaksen said he asked the police union if it would be willing to pay the employee share of the retirement fund costs. River Hills is like most municipalities in that the village pays both the employee and employer costs for the fund. The union contract expired Dec. 20, 2009, and the retirement costs are a discussion item for the contract extension.

Since the budget is an ever evolving document Tollaksen did not calculate the levy or tax rate but will do so for both the budget presented last week, which has a 3 percent increase, and a second budget showing a 2 percent increase that is being developed by each department head. Those calculations and the 2 percent budget will be discussed at the September board meeting.

Police Chief Tom Rischmann said if Weismueller loses his job, it will be the fourth officer position lost over the last 15 years.

"Congress passed a bill to help keep police officers, firefighters and teachers," he said, asking how a 2 percent budget increase would be viewed if the village decides to ask for some of those funds.

"We are more dependent on property taxes than other communities," Tollaksen said after the meeting. Between increased costs, the levy limitation and possible reductions in state aid, there is not much play in the budget.

Something has to give, and currently, it appears it could be Weismueller's job.

"We wanted to put face to this," said Police Sgt. Mike Gaynor. "It would be a major blow to the department to lose him."

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