As Muskego faces multiple road projects and concerns have been raised regarding spending, Mayor Kathy Chiaverotti continued to state the case for the city's fiscal soundness.
The mayor spoke during the State of City meeting at the Monday, where she recapped the highlights of 2011.
Chiaverotti credited the reforms initiated by Gov. Scott Walker in saving the city approximately $70,000 by having employees pay more for the cost of their benefits. This year, the savings is expected to be $200,000.
The fiscal health of Muskego is good, according to Chiaverotti, who cited the Moody's bond rating for Muskego as Aa3. The rating is not as high as other local communities, however. New Berlin's credit rating and Brookfield's bond rating are ranked at Aa1 and Aaa respectively, considered the second highest and highest that can be given. Franklin's rating of Aa2 (for general obligation bonds) is slightly lower than that those two communities, but still exceeds Muskego's rating.
The mayor also pointed to the level of debt the city carries as a good sign.
"We have about $36 million currently in debt, but this represents only 27 percent of our available borrowing of $130 million," she said. "We, of course, don't want to ever borrow that much, but it speaks to our sound position."
Chiaverotti again pointed out the that was part of the budget passed last year, but cautioned that it can't be done every year as there needs to be growth.
"When you see net new growth, you are going to see costs increase. When that happens we have to look at services, but I can tell you, no one wants to see services cut," she said.
Staffing changes at City Hall included the , which Chiaverotti said saved about $150,000. Instead, staff has been to "bring the city up to speed with other communities, like New Berlin," and improve the city's website and communications.
"People are concerned always about transparency, and we are hoping to improve the site to allow easier access to information," she explained.
Regarding business and economic development, the mayor said the city has streamlined a purchasing policy to allow for less micromanagement while keeping checks and balances in place. "The less bureaucracy there is the more attractive you become to businesses," she said.
Moorland Road has been attractive to various businesses, she said, but as people want more restaurants to open, like a TGI Friday's or Red Lobster, but those chains have a minimum requirement of about one million square feet of existing retail and commercial space in a city.
The mayor also said the construction of Pioneer Drive have piqued the interest of a couple of businesses, and a restaurateur may be interested in what happens with the lake park land along Janesville Road.
In regard to the lake park, Chiaverotti called the to gather costs and develop a design plan for the park as "the right thing to do."
However, she maintained that a referendum was not the right thing to do, citing the expense involved and the city's threshold of $10 million in spending as the trigger for a referendum. (It's likely the referendum would have taken place during the November general election, which would not have incurred additional expense in that regard. Chiaverotti clarified that should referenda be required for any purchases, it's likely costs could be incurred.)
She maintained the $4 million in approved borrowing would not impact the tax levy, as $750,000 would come from TIF residual funds, $700,000 would likely come from a grant from the state Department of Natural Resources, and another $2 million fees the city receives from the Emerald Park landfill.
The mayor took questions, and one resident asked the one that is on everyone's mind: the property.
The city was recently in mediation with Art Dyer, who owns the 11-acre parcel many have dubbed "the tree farm" in the heart of the downtown area.
Dyer's claim has been that the city conspired to prevent him from development of the land, in essence taking it.
Chiaverotti said that during the seven-hour session, the attorneys were only with the city an hour, working with Dyer and his counsel the remainder of the time. The result of the meeting, she said, was that Dyer backed out of the negotiations.
"His initial 'takings claim' against the city was $120 million, and he refiled a claim later for $46 million," she explained. "We are willing to work with him, but you need a willing partner to mediate." However, both parties left the door open to continue mediation.
A hearing is scheduled for May to hear the city's request to dismiss the charges.
When the property is ever developed, Chiaverotti said it has always been targeted for mixed use, including retail and residential, but that it would not be a site for any "big box" stores.