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Fire Department funding source up in air since referendum had to be moved

Feb. 12, 2014

Hales Corners — The moving of a referendum question from spring to fall has village administrators reeling and coming up with a Plan B.

The question, asking residents to pay a total of $150,000 extra in village taxes to fund a Fire Department staffing model change, will not be on the spring ballot due to a conflict with the state Department of Revenue. The move to fall puts a crunch on the village in getting a budget drafted and approved on time.

While the Village Board is exploring its options, the move could end with village staff drafting two budgets late next year. Other options could include increasing the village's levy over many years or some hybrid of a dual-budget proposal.

Village Administrator Michael Weber said he isn't sure what the outcome will be, but the board will have to decide by the end of summer.

When fine-tuning the referendum question, Weber said, the village ran into problems with the DOR. The DOR needed financial documents from the village that will only become available in August.

"It's unfortunate to the extent that a lot of work went into prepping this and we ended up with some last minute news from DOR that reflects statutory language that may not have been written too well," Weber said.

The sticking point, he noted, is that the statute states the village can host a referendum in the spring primary, but also needs information that isn't available until summer.

He added that there may be a possibility to change the language in the state statutes through legislation, thus allowing the village to put the question to the vote in the fall primary. "I don't know if the Legislature would act that quickly," he said.

To further confound the issue for Hales Corners board members, the referendum issue could be lost in the much more prominent fall election.

"Gubernatorial, Senate races and a bunch of stuff that will make it much more difficult for the village to get this message out," will be on the ballet in fall, Trustee Dan Besson pointed out.

He added that the change to a part-time staffing model for the Fire Department was needed in the village. The change, he said, has cut response times in half and helped the department recruit new people.

Another sticking point, he noted, was that the increased tax will cost an average of $4 more per week per family.

"It's hard to argue. You spend more on sodas a week than that," he said.

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