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November 21, 2019

10/10/2019 7:30:00 AM
First city budget workshop derailed by lack of quorum

Heather Schaefer
Associate Editor

The City of Rhinelander Common Council hit a roadblock Monday evening just as it was set to delve into the process of fashioning its municipal budget for 2020.

A "budget workshop" was scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday in the council chambers, however when the appointed time arrived there were only five alderpersons - Lee Emmer, Tom Kelly, Dawn Rog, Ryan Rossing and Steve Sauer - at the table.

Aldermen David Holt, George Kirby and Andrew Larson were absent from their seats. As the council must have six members present to conduct business, the meeting could not be called to order.

Mayor Chris Frederickson attempted to contact the three aldermen by phone but was unsuccessful.

"At this point we do not have a quorum," he announced at approximately 6:10 p.m. "The two options are to continue to try to get them (the absent members) here or just to call the meeting at this point. For the sake of your time and my time, we're going to adjourn at this point with no quorum."

No announcement was made as to whether another budget workshop will be scheduled prior to Oct. 21, the next scheduled workshop date.

Budgeting workshops are also scheduled for Nov. 4 and 18, with a public hearing tentatively set for Nov. 25. The last scheduled workshop will be held Dec. 2, according to a schedule distributed to alderpersons Oct. 1.

Historically, the finance committee has taken the lead in preparing the city's annual fiscal plan, which outlines how city funds will be generated and spent. However, last December the common council voted to abolish all committees and commissions not required by state law or city ordinance, including the finance panel, and instead hold two common council meetings per month. Thus, this year, the common council must meet as a committee of the whole to discuss the budget.

According to an article by League of Wisconsin Municipalities attorney Claire Silverman, published in the July 2015 edition of The Municipality magazine, there are specific rules that must be followed in the budgeting process.

"Although time periods vary depending on a municipality's process, the budget process typically commences in the summer or early fall and is in full swing during October and November when municipal officials hold public hearings on proposed budgets and eventually adopt final budgets," Silverman wrote. "Because the budget process requires municipal governing bodies to allocate scarce resources to programs, services and capital assets, it is one of the most important activities undertaken by local governments."

According to the article, state law does not set forth a specific date by which a municipal budget must be enacted but there are specific deadlines that must be met.

"Certainly the budget must be adopted by the end of the year because villages and cities operate on a calendar fiscal year," the article states. "For all practical purposes, however, the budget should be adopted by the end of November or, at the latest, the beginning of December. Otherwise, the municipality will be unable to comply with certain other deadlines relating to the property tax collection process."

Before adopting the annual budget, a municipal governing body must hold a public hearing on the proposed budget to allow citizen comment. To inform the public about the proposed budget, the municipality must publish a class 1 legal notice at least 15 days before the date of the public hearing, the articles states.

According to the article, the notice must include a budget summary that includes information specified by state law; a notice of the place where the proposed budget in detail may be inspected (e.g., the clerk's office); and a notice of the time and place of the budget hearing.

There is also a specific rule as to when the public hearing must be held, according to the article.

"A public hearing on the proposed budget must be conducted not less than 15 days after the budget summary is published," the article states. "At this meeting 'any resident or taxpayer of the governmental unit shall have an opportunity to be heard on the proposed budget.'"

The budget ordinance or resolution may be formally adopted by the governing body following the public hearing or during a subsequent meeting.

Convening a quorum has been a recurrent issue for the council over the last few months.

Council meetings scheduled for July 29 and Aug. 8 were canceled due to a lack of available alderpersons. The council's July 22 was also canceled, however that was the result of an agenda posting error.

The council's next regular meeting is set for 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 14.

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