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Pinching Pennies: Sussex Ranked Most Frugal Community

New report looks at municipal spending and debt in 2010, and Sussex took home the big prize of being the most frugal community in Patch's coverage area. But where does its debt stand?

Pinching Pennies: Sussex Ranked Most Frugal Community

A handful of villages and cities in the Milwaukee metro area considerably outpaced their fellow municipalities when it came to spending and debt levels in 2010, according to a new report from the nonpartisan  Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance

However, when it comes to how much communities spend on operations, Sussex took the grand prize for pinching pennies. The village ranked the most frugal among the 18 Milwaukee-area communities in Patch's coverage area with $499 per capita in 2010.

The numbers come at no surprise after the  was also ranked  in the Milwaukee metro. But with the recent uptick of  in the quickly expanding suburb, some may still be surprised Sussex spent so little.

Bayside spent the most in the Patch coverage area with $1,148 per capita in 2010, according to the report. 

The average spending on operations per capita for the Wisconsin municipalities studied was $838. 

Approximately two-thirds of municipal spending for operations is concentrated in general government administration, street maintenance, law enforcement and fire-ambulance services, the report indicated. On average, communities spent $560 per capita in these basic spending areas, about 1 percent more than they did in 2009.

In terms of debt per capita, Saukville ($3,353) and Sturtevant ($3,157) were in the top dozen among the 243 municipalities the Madison-based organization collected data on for its annual examination of municipal spending trends. Sussex's debt is less, coming in at $2,580 per capita. 

At the other end of the debt spectrum, Greendale was reported to have $1 of debt per capita.

The Effect of the Economy

The report also reflected the anemic economy of the last decade with municipal expenditures and debt amounts slowing. The report showed municipal spending rose 1.3 percent in 2010 after declining in 2009 for the first time in more than a decade, well off the 4.2 percent annual average increase from 2000 to 2008.

The report also indicated debt rose 3.5 percent — the second-smallest increase in a decade — in the state's most populous municipalities in 2010.

"People are like, '(Taxes) keep going up but my pay check is not going up or I have been out of a job for a year.' So there is that sentiment that we need to be restraining some of our expenses and what we are spending money on," said Paula Schafer, finance director for the City of Greenfield. 

The restrained spending on the part of cities and villages has been caused by economic constraints municipal leaders face. The poor economy and the has put downward pressure on revenues, forcing municipal budget offices to decrease spending. 

"We have 2007 accelerated anxiety about spending more, but I remember every year saying it's a tough budget," said Shorewood Village Manager Chris Swartz, who noted that municipal spending has been constrained due to levy limits during the last decade.  

Shorewood spent $884 per capita for operations in 2010, about $50 more than the state average, the report indicated. 

"We still think we need to deliver those services like we always have and not compromise," Swartz said, adding village officials have been instructed to create lean processes and think strategically about the budget process. 

Given collective bargaining reforms, the conservative fiscal policies of lawmakers in Madison and an economy that continues to stagnate, municipal spending is likely to stay somewhat flat in the near future. 

"As employees pay a bigger share of health insurance and pension overall spending numbers are going to decline," said Dale J. Knapp, research director of the Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance. "The question is going to become where are municipalities going focus their resources because they're going have to be, in these tight budgets, they've got to really prioritize." 

How the 18 municipalities in the Patch coverage area compare in population, per-capita operations spending and per-capita debt in 2010.

MunicipalityPopulationOperationsDebtBayside 4,389 $1,148 $2,273 Brookfield 37,920 $948 $1,354 Caledonia 24,705 $622 $948 Fox Point 6,701 $1,072 $1,994 Greendale 14,046 $788 $1 Greenfield 36,720 $729 $795 Menomonee Falls 35,626 $798 $2,274 Mount Pleasant 26,197 $801 $1,899 Muskego 24,135 $596 $919 Oak Creek 34,451 $897 $459 Port Washington 11,250 $873 $2,190 Saukville 4,451 $789 $3,353 Shorewood 13,162 $884 $1,759 Sturtevant 6,970 $627 $3,157 Sussex  10,518 $499 $2,580 Waukesha  70,718 $808 $1,659 Wauwatosa  46,396 $1,139 $882 Whitefish Bay  14,110 $750 $2,363

Source: Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance  

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