What the shared revenue battle means for Brodhead's budget
The level of financial support the state provides to local governments is a priority for the mayor of a small city in rural southern Wisconsin who must make difficult decisions about cutting services.
By Zac Schultz | Here & Now
May 19, 2023 • South Central Region
“Government is just slow,” said Edward “Casey” Jones, who has wanted to be the mayor of Brodhead since he first ran at age 18.
“My campaign was to drive around the streets of Brodhead, honk the horn and say vote for Casey,” he said.
Jones lost that race and then spent most of his adult life living out of state, so when he moved back and won his race for mayor in 2022, he had a plan.
I figured I could run it like my businesses,” Jones said. “I had several businesses that run, so I figured I could run it like that. However, it’s not even close. It’s very slow.”
The first thing Jones ran into was a city budget that had been starved of an increase in shared revenue for a decade.
“There’s not a lot of other things to cut anymore,” he said.
Then the Brodhead Fire District — serving the city and several rural townships — decided to move from volunteers to full time staff. The city’s portion of the increase was more than $300,000 a year.
“Last year, if we wanted to have a balanced budget, we were going to have to cut about $330,000 — 10% of the budget,” said Jones.
Instead, the mayor sent a dissolution letter to the Brodhead Fire District, starting the process of breaking up the fire department.
Jones said it wasn’t just a negotiating tactic.
“Anything that you do where you’re cracking eggs and you’re busting or changing stuff, you have to have a backup plan,” he said. “So we did have a backup plan, and it would have been a very viable backup plan. However, our first thing was to sit down and say, ‘How do we fix what we have?'”
The city and the rural halves of the Fire District were able to negotiate a deal that kept the volunteers, but it was a one-year fix while the city of Brodhead went to referendum in April 2023 to ask the voters for an extra $400,000 a year.
“We’re going to give the people a choice. They can vote on it — if they vote no, then the next year we have to cut social programs,” Jones said. “Then, we lost the referendum.”
Jones knew the stakes for his city when he traveled to Wisconsin Dells and waited six hours to get his two minutes to speak before the Joint Finance Committee at an April 12 listening session.
“I am Mayor Casey Jones from the city of Brodhead, the middle of everywhere,” he told lawmakers. “Kinda wonder why I don’t have my suit on? I retired 20 years ago and that was the last time I wore a suit and it didn’t fit. ”
Jones explained without an increase in shared revenue, he would have to close the city pool for the summer.
“It’s my hometown — we had a pool, we had parks and rec. We had all of those things, and it looks like my hometown is no longer going to have them,” he said. “So that’s how dire it is.”
The pool costs about $80,000 a year.
A Republican plan passed in the Assembly on May 17 would give Brodhead an extra $109,277 a year.
“I think at the very least we can delay some of the things for a while down the road,” Jones said.
So while the pool will stay open for the summer of 2023, he knows this isn’t a permanent fix.
“But it’s a start,” said Jones, “and you got to take little victories.”