Imagine being faced with a $460,000 tab for street repairs knowing your tax levy will total just $34,000? Welcome to budgeting in the Village of Eden.
Wisconsin’s small villages are often caught in this financial trap, with levy limits on one side and old infrastructure on the other. Communities that for years prided themselves on keeping property taxes low now find that when it’s time to replace main street or a sewer main, the levy limit law is a barrier. The only way around the barrier is to borrow money; effectively putting today’s problems in the laps of tomorrow’s residents.
The Village of Eden is a small community just Southeast of Fond du Lac with a population of around 900. According to Census bureau estimates, it’s growing, which is unusual for a small village in rural Wisconsin. In fact, the village’s slogan is “A place to grow.” Unfortunately, that “growth” doesn’t extend to the village budget. Under Wisconsin levy limits, Eden will see an allowable levy increase in 2019 of zero. According to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, Eden’s “net new construction” growth in 2018 was a negative 0.26-percent, meaning it would not be allowed to increase its tax levy in 2019. The village will rely on borrowing and a small wheel tax for any funding increases. Efforts to attract grants have failed, due in significant part to the village’s small population.
Unfortunately for Eden, costs will not remain at zero. The state is rebuilding Highway 45 and village must pay $460,000 for its share of the work (Highway 45 is one of Eden’s main streets). In addition, for the past two years, Eden has been forced to borrow money to operate. The village has over $1.7 million in outstanding debt and will be required to pay for the replacement of a seventy-year-old water main. There is no money to pay for new hiring or other costs. The village’s sole computer was ten years old before it finally acted up once too often and had to be replaced.
Eden is a typical small Wisconsin community. It serves an area that is primarily agricultural, with some suburban influences owing to the short 20-minute drive to Fond du Lac or 30-minute drive to West Bend. You can rent the village park for a family reunion and the village president has been known to shovel sidewalks in the winter when needed. It embodies the values that Wisconsin points to with pride: small town, strong work ethic, conservative when it comes to spending. But there are limits.
In a report submitted to the League and posted on our website, the village pleads with state policy makers to, “PLEASE FIND A WAY TO HELP THE SMALL COMMUNITIES THAT HAVE BEEN TRYING TO KEEP TAXES LOW.”