Wellington Eyes Lower Tax Rate, Smaller Budget

Wellington residents can expect a lower tax rate and a smaller budget next year under a preliminary budget proposal reviewed Wednesday by the Wellington Village Council.

The proposed budget of $72.3 million is down 2.6 percent from the current year’s $73.9 million, Financial Management & Budget Director Mireya McIlveen said.

The proposed tax rate of 2.47 mills is down 4 percent from the rate of 2.5 mills the council has approved the last three years.

A rate of 2.47 mills would mean that a Wellington resident whose property is assessed at $175,000 after exemptions would pay $432.25 in village property taxes next year.

At that tax rate, Wellington will bring in about $12.23 million in revenue, McIlveen said, down from approximately $12.8 million in the current year.

“The taxable values continued to decline steadily for the past three years,” McIlveen said. “But they seem to have leveled out.”

Village Manager Paul Schofield noted that some residents who have had homestead exemptions for more than a decade may see an increase in taxable value.

“If you have had the benefit of a homestead exemption for the entire length of the Save Our Homes amendment, it is possible you will see an increase in taxable value based on bringing it up to whatever the current market value is,” he said.

Meanwhile, the budget is proposed to shrink. However, it is still a work in progress.

Council members asked village staff Wednesday to draft proposed costs for moving Wellington back to a five-day workweek, and also bringing its legal counsel in-house.

Two years ago, Wellington switched to a four-day workweek to save on electricity and other costs.

Vice Mayor Howard Coates said he was concerned that customer service suffered on Fridays because of the change.

“Do we have a customer service problem in the four days we provide it?” he asked. “Or is it something that could be resolved by going back to five days?”

Schofield noted that although there is no one in the municipal center’s lobby on Fridays, customers could still get services by calling. He noted, however, that some appointments need to be made on Thursday to get Friday service.

“For almost every village service, if you need something, it’s available on Friday or Saturday,” Schofield said. “One of the issues has been building inspection. If you want a Friday building inspection, you have to call for it on Thursday.”

He said he would bring council members an evaluation of going back to a five-day workweek.

They also considered changes to the legal department.

Wellington currently pays $400,000 for its contracted legal department, but that cost does not include time spent on litigation.

With several pending lawsuits, several council members were concerned about costs.

Schofield said that Wellington could use leftover rate stabilization funds to offset the cost.

“The day-to-day legal services won’t change,” he said. “There is a rate stabilization fund that we did not use all of for this year. We would suggest tying those costs to the funds.”

But Councilman Matt Willhite asked whether money could be saved with an in-house attorney. He pointed out that much of the cost of litigation is in preparing for lawsuits.

“There is so much prep time to get to the point where you go to court,” he said. “I think we are involved in more potential litigation for the next three to four years. If that’s the case, a one-man show doesn’t do it.”

Village Attorney Jeff Kurtz said he would like to meet with council members individually to discuss the idea.

Cuts in the budget next year will come from mostly capital improvement projects and department reorganization, McIlveen said.

“Most of the savings are in the capital budget because we’re only doing ongoing capital maintenance,” she explained.

Though the council is set to have its capital improvements hearing later this month, only two projects are slated for next year’s budget.

The proposed projects are paving and improvements of 120th Street for $145,000, and $159,000 for improvements to the Village Park gym.

Another large expense will come for programming at the Wellington Amphitheater, McIlveen said. The proposed budget sets aside an additional $100,000 for programming and security.

“Programming at the amphitheater has become more and more popular as time goes on,” she explained. “The programming has matured, and people know about the amphitheater. The parks department wants to offer new and better programming, especially now that they have gotten feedback. That is part of the increase.”

Councilwoman Anne Gerwig supported the increase.

“I want to make sure that we get the amphitheater programming properly funded,” she said. “I think we’ve been a little bit negligent in that. The programs have gotten so much better. This is a place we need to concentrate on.”

Other increases come from providing increased transparency with Wellington’s documents, McIlveen said. Wellington plans to spend about $197,000 for supplemental personnel to help scan and organize documents.

“Transparency is one of our big initiatives this year,” she said. “When we first started the Open Wellington transparency project, the first phase was for financial records. The current document backlog is monumental.”

Additionally, McIlveen noted that Wellington is behind on technology that will make document management easier.

“In order to provide the transparency online that we wish to have, we need to upgrade some technology,” she said. “We’re also proposing some temporary increases in staff to help us catch up with the backlog.”

Willhite said that he felt Wellington should choose a date and scan documents newer than that date, rather than scan every document in the village’s history.

Assistant Village Manager Francine Ramaglia noted that the documents are used both internally and externally. “When we go back to look for documents relative to questions that arrive,” she said, “a lot of it we have to go back through physically.”

She said that it would take an estimated nine to 12 months to scan everything slated to be added to Open Wellington.

To help alleviate the problem in the future, Ramaglia said that Wellington is encouraging its employees to scan important documents, which should help keep them current.

Willhite said he believes Wellington should keep up with current documents, but not necessarily go back and scan old documents. “I don’t know that the benefit is there financially,” he said.

But Gerwig pointed out that if someone does a public records request for a document that is not digital, it would take personnel time to find it. “If it were scanned,” she said, “it would be a whole lot easier.”

Ramaglia said that staff had picked a date, but some of the backlog was current.

“The way Open Wellington was designed was to keep us current for three to five years,” she said.

Wellington is also anticipating an increase in revenue this year as construction increases. “We have seen not just an increase in permits in terms of new construction, but also in the value of some of the changes in construction. Some of the permits coming in are higher value,” McIlveen said.