Repair bill could stand Elm Grove in good stead
As information comes in, picture looks up
The proposed state budget is dripping with controversy, and one of the biggest criticisms facing lawmakers is the exclusion of police and firefighter unions from the changes to collective bargaining.
Proposed cuts in shared revenue and transportation aid, as well as a likely reduction in funding from the Expenditure Restraint Program, would all cut into state money flowing into Elm Grove.
The budget-repair bill was meant to offset some of those losses, and initial projections showed that the bill would save Elm Grove about $85,000 annually thanks to employee contributions to pensions. The village is self-insured and employees already pay about 11 percent of their health insurance costs, so changes to state health insurance contributions wouldn't have an effect in Elm Grove. A vote on the financial portions of the budget-repair bill is still pending at the state level.
But the village's original estimate factored in represented employees - public works employees and emergency dispatchers - whose existing contracts would remain in place until they expire in 2012, and did not factor in non-union police and fire personnel, who now need to be. Finance Director Monica Hughes said those changes put the village's savings at about $67,600.
If the reforms remain in place, the village could stand to gain another $35,000 in savings once public works and emergency dispatch contracts are re-negotiated under the new collective bargaining terms.
That means that in 2013, the village could be saving about $102,600 in annual costs thanks to the repair bill. Cuts in shared revenue, transportation aid, and the $40,000 in recycling dollars the village would lose if the proposed biennial budget passes total about $108,000 in losses, an essentially negligible net loss.
Police, fire next?
Republican lawmakers at the state level, including Gov. Scott Walker, are saying that police and fire unions are next to face changes to their bargaining abilities. If that's true, it would nearly double the amount of money Elm Grove could save.
The village pays about 11 percent of general employees' salaries into their pensions. With the governor proposing those employees pay 5.8 percent of their salaries into their pensions themselves, it cuts the village's pension costs for those workers in half.
However, Elm Grove pays 21.3 percent of union police and fire workers' salaries into their pensions. Early proposals would have police these worker contributing the same 5.8 percent of their salaries as everyone else.
That change would save Elm Grove an additional $61,000 in annual costs. That would not only fully cover the loss resulting from state aid, but actually be a net gain for the village.
Changes discussed before
So, if there are changes to police and fire union bargaining abilities, does that change the way the village views the services it currently has? Village Board President Neil Palmer said the village is always looking to improve efficiency.
"Our goal as a Village Board is to provide quality services at a reasonable cost. If there's a better way to do it, we're open to it," Palmer said.
Past discussions have centered on contracting input from Elm Grove, merging services with other communities or shifting responsibilities outside the community. With more money, the opposite may actually be possible, although the new dollars certainly wouldn't be enough to make substantial additions to service.
Palmer called changes to the current pension system "critical" and pointed out that Elm Grove was among the first community in the state to have employees pay health care.
Creating more equity among public employees, Palmer said, allows the government more flexibility to maximize efficiencies for taxpayers.
"Bottom line is government is a business. Our customers are the taxpayers and we have to find a way to provide the services they want in a reasonable way," he said.
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