Arena Village Board faces tough budget decisions after referendums fail

Emilie Conlon, Editor-in-Chief

The village of Arena posed three referendum questions to residents in the Nov. 3 election, all of which failed, forcing the board to make last minute 2021 budget cuts, affecting funding for the village’s Fire and EMT Services, employee benefits and street maintenance. 

Each question posed to voters earlier this month included increasing the village 2021 tax levy limit for various fundings of village services and repairs. The first question was defeated with 258 no votes and 218 yes votes, to increase the levy limit to continue funding of the village’s EMT services. 

Currently, the village and township of Arena co-op on Fire and EMS services, with the township covering 58% of costs, and the village picking up the remaining 42%. 

Due to the referendum not passing, the finance committee was forced to make budget cuts to the fire and EMS departmental budgets, and at its Nov. 10 meeting the full village board approved cutting the department funding to only 27% of the portion it is responsible for. 

Village Clerk DaNean Naeger said the public works department cut approximately $10,100, the parks department cut about $8,490 and the police department cut approximately $4,000 to cover the approved 27% for Fire and EMS. 

Arena Township Board Chairman David Lucey spoke during public comment at the village’s last meeting, questioning whether the board had a “plan B” after the EMT referendum did not pass.

“What is the village’s plan of action for the EMT financing?” said Lucey. “It puts the township, and us as a board, in kind of a precarious position.” 

Lucey stated at the meeting that the town board has proceeded with plans to exceed its levy limit to cover the remaining costs for the joint services. 

“It’s very important to us…we would like to be able to have some kind of Plan B… Our thought process is still the same, we went ahead and we’re working with accountants, and we’re working with folks right now, to try to get our levy changed—we will get it changed—we’re going to exceed our levy limit, by about $75,000,” said Lucey. 

It appears the township is going through the levy limit process under Wis. Stat. 66.0602(5) that allows electors in towns under 3,000 in population to exceed the maximum allowable levy limit by following a specific process in statute. 

This would include creating and passing a resolution to exceed the levy limit, and holding public meetings allowing electors to vote on the matter. 

Lucey said to fund the township’s normal 58% of the fire and EMS services costs, resident’s taxes would increase between $47-$51 per $100,000 of valuation. 

When asked if he was optimistic, come this upcoming budget year, that the joint fire department and EMT program was going to be funded adequately, Lucey stated, “I’m a little bit pessimistic right now.”

The township and village will hold a joint fire board meeting to continue discussing and taking action on the matter Nov. 19. 

The village posed two other referendum questions that failed on Nov. 3, the second including increasing the levy limit for employee retention and benefits, which failed with 299 no votes and 174 yes votes. 

Naeger said the village employees will not receive health insurance in 2021 due to the referendum failing. 

The third question included increasing the levy limit for maintaining village streets, which failed 295-177. This means there will be no capital outlay funding for public streets or public works equipment in 2021. 

Other actions and discussions the board took at the Nov. 10 meeting include: 

—Accepting Ray Porter’s resignation from the Plan Commission 

—Appointing Village President Kate Reimann to the Fire Board 

—Appointing Trustee Jessica Voight to the Dane/Iowa Watershed Board 

—Reduced the number of meeting notices posted. The Village will no longer post at the Crappie Shop or Grandma Mary’s Cafe, the Village will now post at the village hall and electronically on the village website. Approved, with Trustee Paul Pustina dissenting.

On April 6, 2021 four Trustee seats will be up for election in the Village of Area. Currently Village President Kate Reimann, Trustee Tara Hill, Trustee Bill Hansen, and Trustee Kathy Scholtz are incumbents in the seats. 

Nomination papers can be circulated staring Dec. 1, 2020 and must be returned to the village clerk by 5 p.m. Jan. 5. 

If a primary election is necessary, it will be held on Feb. 16, 2021. 

Adam Meyer, editorial intern, and Quincy Aston-Lott, Managing Editor, contributed to this reporting.