When it comes to the Wauwatosa city budget, most residents' foremost concern is the "amount due" box on their tax bills.
City officials are aware of what is on taxpayers' minds and want them to know that the influx of new development in the city has abated the need for a larger increase in the tax burden placed on property owners.
According to city administrator Jim Archambo, the city had a 3.05 percent increase in new construction and that has helped to keep the proposed tax levy increase at 0.66 percent. That amount would equate to the average homeowner paying $11.05 more on their tax bill in 2017 than they paid in 2016.
In a budget summary letter from Archambo and mayor Kathy Ehley to the common council Sept. 8, the pair cited the city's stated goal for new development to net an increase of 1.5 percent annually through 2020. In 2016, the increase in construction reflected 3.05 percent growth, which has helped city budget officials net a modest increase in the tax bill Wauwatosa residents will receive in 2017.
Nov. 22 the council will vote on the proposed 2017 budget submitted by city staffers and recommended for approval by the financial affairs committee.
Archambo said that the impact of tax levy limits put in place by the state hits harder and is more constraining in Wauwatosa than other cities. This creates the need for the city to seek out and embrace new development.
"Expanding the tax revenue is critically important," Archambo said. "The only way for (Wauwatosa) to meet our current level of services is to increase value density."
The downfall of an increasing pace of development and the density that accompanies it is the expanding need for services like additional infrastructure, traffic control, police protection, and fire services. Alderman Dennis McBride said that new development versus an increase in tax-funded services creates a delicate balance that everyone involved in the city government is mindful of.
"For us to continue our level of services we must continue to develop," McBride said. "I don't believe we have yet to reach the saturation point."
McBride said the elevation in the level of developers seeking to build in Wauwatosa started with pent-up demand from the 2008 economic downturn. He said that with each development in the city, the demand for more continues like a snowball rolling down a hill. He cited developments like the Village, the Mayfair Collection, Innovation Drive and the medical complex that have all contributed to the increase in value density and created demand for more expansion.
According to Archambo, there are three means by which budget-makers can keep the tax levy in check. They can cut expenditures, add revenue streams or expand the tax base.
McBride said given the current economic climate and the availability of land for potential growth, the choice of expanding was the prudent option.
"While other municipalities are struggling with levy limits with modest development and few options, the city has continued to manage these challenges to improve services," the letter to the council said.