The Merrill Common Council approved a 2012 budget last Tuesday that is down slightly from this year that had to account for a decline in aid from the state.
Every department in the city saw some cuts, but the Municipal Court was faced with having its staffing cut from 40 hours a week to 25, basically eliminating the assistant clerk position in the process.
The budget will be paid for with a property tax levy of $4.877 million, an increase from this year’s $4.85 million. Capital expenditures for 2012 total $75,250, with over half going to a new police squad car.
During the budget hearing before the vote, Municipal Court Judge Jim Sheridan asked why his staffing had to be cut so sharply.
“It’s a pretty drastic cut, 15 hours,” Sheridan said. “There are things that won’t be done that this council has come to expect.”
Sheridan said that the caseload of his court since it was established has grown from 15-17,000 cases a year to a high of 24,000. He said that the court is seeing a decline this year to around 20-21,000. The decline in cases is due to citations being reduced statewide by 10 percent. This is because with budget cuts happening, enforcement has declined, Sheridan said.
“It is not an issue of efficiency of the court,” Sheridan said. “The reduction in revenue is across the state and shouldn’t be held against the court.”
Council President Steve Hass said that the decline in revenue in the court warranted a matching cut in staffing. He noted that for many years, 25 hours was standard staffing for the office.
Before voting to approve the budget, Hass moved that five hours be added back to the court budget.
“I was going to do this before the meeting,” Hass said.
The budget was then approved by a 5-3 vote with Anne Caylor, Dave Sukow and Jeremy Thompson casting nay votes.
Included in the budget is $17,000 to study the feasibility of expanding Merrill Fire Department Station No. 1, adding an ambulance storage building to it, and consolidating department operations there. The feasibility study will evaluate the building architecturally to see what it would cost to expand it. There was no discussion on that item.