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Shorewood residents want tax hikes capped by CPI, favor consolidations

Survey provides insights into villagers preferences

Nov. 12, 2013

Shorewood — A majority of residents support maintaining village services so long as resulting tax increases are kept at or below the rate of inflation, and support consolidating a number of village departments with neighboring municipalities, according to results of the 2013 village survey.

The survey was the third village-wide questionnaire conducted in partnership with nearby University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the last 10 years. Of the three, the 2013 survey had the highest response rate, with nearly 1,600 residents participating for a 23.6 percent response rate by household.

"It was the first time we did it online," Special Projects Coordinator Peter Cahill said of the survey. "We weren't sure how well it was going to go over, but I think it did go over really well."

Working within constraints

Consolidations of services like police or public works have been perennial topics of conversation in the North Shore in recent years, and though no one has yet called a vote on the subject or solidified a proposal, interest has increased as state-mandated levy limits have squeezed municipal budgets.

While residents supported potential consolidations of six village departments with other local governments, the balance of support varied widely based on department. North Shore communities already share a fire department, health department, water commission and dispatch center, among other things.

In the survey, 73 and 70 percent of Shorewood respondents supported consolidating the building inspection office and municipal court, respectively. A potential consolidation of the library with a neighboring community was supported by about 51 percent of respondents, while nearly 40 percent were opposed to the idea.

Support for a potential police merger barely edged out opposition, with 46.8 percent of residents for it and 46 percent against.

Village officials say the potential consolidations could factor into the long-range visioning process that is taking place now among community members and leaders. Village President Guy Johnson said that while the potential savings are greater with police and public works mergers, those are tougher to sell to the public than a court or inspection consolidation.

"It kind of makes sense in the long-term, since we have a North Shore Fire Department, maybe we could have a North Shore Police Department," Johnson said. "But it's not going to be a slam dunk by any means, because there are pros and cons that would need to be worked out."

Village Manager Chris Swartz said that, if and when the merger talks happen someday, the catalyst will be leadership.

"It's really about leadership in the communities, who wants to look at ways of improving service at less cost," Swartz said. "It's a real leadership issue on consolidations. It always is."

Tax limited at inflation

A 60 percent majority of respondents said they would prefer the village to maintain its current level of services and cap any resulting tax increases at the rate of inflation. About a quarter of respondents favored cutting services over time to maintain or reduce taxes and fees while 10 percent said they would prefer the village expand services even if it would mean tax and fee increases greater than the rate of inflation.

To a certain extent the majority sentiment expresses a moot point, since state-mandated levy limits keep tax increases well below inflation anyway.

Nevertheless, Johnson said the Village Board's recent actions to limit village tax increases indicate that elected officials are already on the same page as residents.

"(The survey) kind of says that if levy caps were lifted people would want to keep tax increases below the rate of inflation," Johnson said. "I don't think anyone on the board disagrees with that."

Positive ratings

Residents rated the majority of village services and departments favorably, with the North Shore Fire Department and Village Hall front desk taking top marks, each averaging between "good" and "excellent" ratings; on the flip side, the village assessor's office and building inspection department were ranked lowest and were the only two to average between the "good" and "fair" ratings.

Respondents overwhelming supported the village sewer and stormwater infrastructure overhaul, with 83 percent supporting the approximately 10-year, $30-$35 million project.

"It's a lot of money, but four of five residents supported it," Cahill said.

Other village initiatives like the business facade improvement program, business district redevelopment, Oakland Avenue and Capitol Drive streetscaping, as well as conservation and "green" projects enjoyed similar support.

Detailed survey results are available at the village website: villageofshorewood.org.

BY THE NUMBERS

73.3

percent of respondents who favored sharing building inspection services with other communities, the highest percentage among any possible consolidation

46.8

percent of respondents who favored sharing police with area communities. Forty-six percent opposed the idea, making it the least conclusive public opinion on any possible consolidation.

60

percent of respondents who said village services should be maintained, though any resulting tax increases over time should be capped at the rate of inflation.

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