WAUPUN — The Waupun City Council reviewed priorities for the upcoming 2024 City Budget at last Tuesday’s City Council meeting, focusing primarily on the sports and city facilities.
The City of Waupun typically puts together annual budgets in the fourth quarter of the year. The mayor has the authority to suggest priorities which are provided to the Council for discussion, with input from department heads and the city attorney.
Last year the budget discussions were focused on the “buy local” debate, where the Council had to decide whether to purchase a work truck from Homan Auto—a Waupun-based automotive retailer—or from Ewald, the state preferred supplier out of Oconomowoc.
But now, about nine months since the previous budget was approved, the City is already looking into priorities for next year.
After City Administrator Kathy Schlieve gave a brief summary on the budget process, Mayor Rohn Bishop outlined the priorities that he wanted the budget to focus on. This included making repairs to historic city buildings including the Carnegie Library—now Heritage Museum—and City Hall itself, as well as upgrading equipment at the city garage.
The Mayor acknowledged that prioritizing these projects could mean postponing projects in other areas, such as road construction, but pointed out that if these projects are completed now they are off the City’s plate for decades at a time.
“We’re still putting money towards roads this year,” Mayor Bishop said. “We know everyone wants their roads remade, with the mill and overlay, or get a pothole fixed, but there’s only so much money to go around.”
“I do want to stress that my proposal is only for one year, next year we will have to start catching up on the roads,” the Mayor added. “I just really like the idea of marking things off, that we get hockey, we get baseball, we get the museum, we get city hall, and these are the things that future councils won’t have to worry about, because no matter if we skip one year on roads or not roads are going to be an issue every single year.”
Among the prioritized projects are assisting in funds for the Community Center ice rink floor and Baseball Complex turf fields, but this would come from the remaining $250,000 ARPA funds—plus all interest it has accrued.
One of the concerns Alderman Pete Kaczmarski brought up at previous meetings was about whether funding the sports organizations now would set a precedent for the future, as the City did not have the budget for every future project for sports facilities.
“Everyone’s got their hands out for organizations for funding, whatever it might be, it’s just then we prioritize which one is more important than others and what percentage of funding for each of those,” Alderman Kaczmarski said. “It doesn’t make any of the other ones go away, but it does make us do a hard-thought process.”
Mayor Bishop acknowledged this by including in the proposals a specific warning to sports organizations that going forward they need to invest and save for projects, and cannot rely on the City to fund everything. Mayor Bishop, with input from Alderman Kaczmarski, suggested that the City could set up a grant fund to allow for all community sports to benefit from the remaining ARPA fund for future years.
The reason that it’s so important for the City to support local sports such as hockey and baseball is how much they bring in for tax revenue during tournaments and events. The Hockey Association often hosts youth tournaments in partnership with Fond du Lac, as well as hosting games during state tournaments.
The Waupun Baseball Complex also often hosts state baseball tournaments, which is only possible because of the turf fields. Dirt fields are impossible to play on during inclement weather which could impact play times during tournaments, making turf fields desirable for tight schedules.
Mayor Bishop suggested $100,000 each to the hockey rink floor and the Baseball Complex, with the rest going to the grant fund. Alderman Kaczmarski suggested $75,000 instead, with the rest in the fund.
“The reality is the City owns both the baseball facilities and hockey facilities, and we haven’t invested in them for a long time and ARPA is the opportunity to do that,” Alderman Dan Siebers said, agreeing with Mayor Bishop’s plan.
Alderman Jason Westphal agreed with Kaczmarski’s suggestion on the numbers, but disagreed with his framing, reaffirming the City’s responsibility to the local sports organizations.
“You can’t keep saying that these youth sports organizations keep coming with their hands up; they’re running the youth sports for our city that the city has to have, it can’t be a city without that,” Westphal said. “So either we hire a full-time person at the city level to run all these things, or we don’t. Baseball has to fund this turf and you don’t want any funding to come back to them in the future, when the failure started with this Council when they put that turf in there and came up with no plan to replace something that they knew had a life expectancy of it. Same thing with the hockey rink.”
“Yes, we have to put more leverage on the youth sports portion of that partnership, but it can’t be just straight up nothing and ‘you guys figure it out,’” Westphal added.
“We need to help take responsibility to help make sure that these things are sustainable for the future, because they’re city-owned amenities,” Siebers said.
City Administrator Schlieve also brought up what to do with the budget in regards to the taxi service and the levy limit to be discussed at a future meeting.
The Council also discussed Athletic Facility Use Agreements, the current draft for Youth Sports Program Framework, and City fee schedule.