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West Bend officials approve questions for advisory referendum on potential road work

rchapoco@conleynet.com 262-306-5095

West Bend officials have implemented the necessary steps to conduct an advisory referendum for the coming spring election, and now they have revealed what they want their constituents to ponder on April 3.

Common Council members voted to approve the four questions they will place on the ballot during Monday’s meeting. This includes the additional dollar amounts they want residents to consider paying and the manner the additional revenues will take. Alderman Roger Kist voted against the measure.

“Some of us receive a fair amount of attention and time in terms of fixing the roads, whereas other members on the committee get almost no calls at all,” Alderman Rich Kasten said. “It tells you that we are in an area with a big difference of opinion.”

Kasten listed several points in the memo he wrote to colleagues on the council. The first is that the referendum is advisory, meaning they are on the ballot simply to gauge the public’s opinion about matters related to transportation. They are not binding.

He stated it was not address a budgetary issue, filling in needs related to road projects, but will result in a shorter lag time when dealing with specific transportation issues.

According to the notice of advisory referendum, West Bend officials have planned four questions for the public to consider during the spring election. The first question is:

“Currently, the city of West Bend invests over $1 million (increasing 4 percent annually) on road and sidewalk maintenance,” the first question reads. “In addition to this annual investment, would you support the Common Council increasing property taxes by approximately $640,000, approximately by 23 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, to apply to borrowing that can be used for roads?”

The second question is a variant of the first but doubles the amount of the tax that officials will impose on residents.

“Currently, the city of West Bend invests over $1 million (increasing 4 percent annually) on road and sidewalk maintenance. In addition to this annual investment, would you support the Common Council increasing property taxes by approximately $1.2 million, approximately by 46 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, to apply to borrowing that can be used for road.

The third question also asks if residents are willing to pay more, but alters the manner in which it is imposed.

“Currently, the city of West Bend invests over $1 million (increasing 4 percent annually) on road and sidewalk maintenance,” the third question reads. “In addition to this annual investment, would you support the Common Council implementing a $20 vehicle registration fee (wheel tax) to apply exclusively to road designated borrowing?”

The additional revenues gained from potential increases in taxes or fees will be used to supplement money council members plan to borrow to address the roads issue.

Roads, along with their accompanying maintenance costs, have been where city officials have heard the most complaints. Based on a discussion with attendees at an October Common Sense Citizens of Washington County meeting, Mayor Kraig Sadownikow said the roads where motorists drive east to west are adequate, but the north and south corridors present issues. These are Main Street, Seventh Avenue and 18th Avenue.

He added that city officials researched the topic and learned the thoroughfares were slightly better than the midpoint based on a 10point scale referred to as a PASER rating. Sadownikow added that are budgeting more than other communities to maintain the transportation infrastructure for the area.

That fact that the questions will be brought before the public represents a significant step for West Bend Common Council members given the conservative makeup of the county.

Nearly all are opposed to tax increases. To highlight the point, during a forum for the vacant 58th Assembly District, each candidate for the Republican Party said they would be against any additional revenue measures for roads, this includes property tax increases as well as a wheel tax or tolls.

West Bend officials believe it is important to ask the question however, setting the stage for potential fees or tax increases should they receive a favorable response from constituents.

City staff have hosted public information sessions to gauge the community members’ appetites for additional taxes and fees, but attendance has been minimal at the event.

“If we exclude city employees that came to the meeting, members of the press or social media that came to the meeting, and exclude candidates that are up for the election, three meetings a total of four people came,” Sadownikow said during the December council meeting.”

The final question is meant to address a collaborative initiative with the county.

“Washington County currently imposes a 0.5 percent sales tax throughout the county and none of these dollars are shared with the local municipalities (e.g. the city of West Bend). Municipalities have recently put forth a proposal to the County for sharing sales tax revenues,” the fourth question states. “Would you support an agreement where the County would distribute up to 25 percent of the revenues with the municipalities (approximately $600,000 for West Bend) to apply to road designated borrowing?”

Common Council members voted for a resolution during their Sept. 11 meeting requesting that supervisors share the sales tax revenue they collect from residents when they purchase qualified items at area retailers.

They are asking for about 25 percent of the proceeds or almost $3 million. The money would he shared among the various municipalities based on land values or population.

“The only other thing I wanted to throw in there, being the largest municipality in the county, everyone from outside comes here, drives on our streets, beats them up to generate the sales tax so that is just why I think it is at least a valid question to ask,” West Bend Alderman Adam Williquette said during a June meeting when they were first considering the proposal.

Reaction from members of the county’s Executive Committee said they are unwilling to share the sales tax revenues, citing on the ongoing fiscal situation.

“Based on what you are saying, I think we need to be very clear that — not necessarily that we are denying anything, but that we are declining even considering it,” County Administrator Joshua Schoemann said to committee members. “With that in mind we can give some history, where it started we can do a little bit of research and document that, and I think it is important for the county to try and stay as magnanimous as possible.”

Schoemann then drafted an open letter explaining why they couldn’t share the revenues with municipalities, but they were open to collaborative agreements.

Traffic moves along 18th Avenue on Monday morning in West Bend. The area of 18th Avenue near the Highway 45 overpass has been addressed as an area to improve. John Ehlke/Daily News

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