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Port wheel tax plan prompts more questions than feedback PDF Print E-mail
Community
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM   
Wednesday, 10 January 2018 18:39

Those who expressed opinions at meeting were split on merits of proposal

    There were more questions than opinions expressed about the City of Port Washington’s proposed $20 annual wheel tax during an informational meeting on the topic Tuesday.
    About 25 people attended the session, where Mayor Tom Mlada presented his plan for a tax that he said would be an important tool to help finance road repairs in the city.
    The $20 fee would raise about $200,000, Mlada said, which would not supplant but supplement the city’s spending on roadwork.
    “I think $20 is reasonable,” one woman said. “If we’re sure we’re getting the money back for our community, that’s OK. I see some pretty crappy roads. I think you probably are being proactive at this point.”
    But, she asked, “why do things have to get this bad before you do something?”
    But Amy Otis-Wilborn said she does not believe the wheel tax is the right answer, especially as developments are adding roads to the community.
    “Twenty dollars just seems like nothing,” she said. “It seems like we’re solving very little.”
    Mlada acknowledged that the city is behind in its road repairs, noting that using a  10-point scale, 16 of the city’s 50 miles of roads rate a three or four.
    The city is borrowing about $800,000 annually for road repairs, but to catch up it would need to spend $2 million, he said.
    While the wheel tax would not completely fill the gap, it would help, he added.
    Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven said the $200,000 could be used to resurface two-thirds of a mile of road or resurface and replace the curb and gutter along one-third mile of road or reconstruct two blocks of streets.
    Mlada said he suggested a $20 wheel tax because it’s the average charged by the 23 municipalities in the state that have the tax and it’s affordable for people.
    “Even at $40, it wouldn’t be a silver bullet,” he said. “We know the $200,000 will have an impact.”
    Some people have suggested that the city put the wheel tax proposal to a referendum vote, but Mlada said that’s not appropriate.
    “I think there’s a place for a referendum,” he said, such as the $49.4 million school referendum held by the school district in 2015 “This, to me, is not one of them.
    “In my opinion, we elect these seven gentlemen (aldermen) to represent us. We don’t have to take every issue to referendum.”
    The city can’t budget for the road repairs because there isn’t enough room under state levy limits, Mlada said, and it can’t cut $2 million annually for road repairs because there isn’t room in the budget.
    Eliminating the library, senior center and parks and recreation programs entirely would only save the city $1.2 million, he said, adding the entire street department budget is only about $2.1 million.
    And imposing a local sales tax, as suggested by some people, isn’t allowed by the state, Mlada added.
    The city is working to increase its tax base by promoting development, which will help it meet state levy limit laws while still  allowing it to find funds for roadwork and other needs, Mlada said.
    One man asked whether the city is likely to increase the wheel tax once it’s in place, and Mlada told him the council could set a sunset date or a date when it should be reviewed.
    Kendel Feilen asked whether the city had considered setting a maximum fee per household. That, he said, could make it “more palatable” for residents.
    Officials said they would check on this, adding that the Department of Transportation, which would collect the tax when drivers renew their vehicle license plates, probably would not allow this.
    Dan Micha suggested that since interest rates are so low, the city should borrow $2 million to fix the streets and repay it using the wheel tax proceeds. If the city does impose the tax, it should review it annually with an eye to abolishing it when the need has diminished.
    The Common Council is expected to discuss the proposed wheel tax when it meets at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 16.

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