Waupaca County supervisors voted Tuesday, July 19, to authorize the sale of $13.5 million in bonds.
The bonds will fund the county’s capital improvement projects over the next three years.
About $12 million will go toward county road construction projects, representing an investment of $4 million per year.
Other projects include improvements at county parks and the courthouse, an upgrade of the law enforcement’s radio system, and new equipment for the solid waste and recycling department.
Several supervisors who voted against the highway department’s request for $4 million in bonding last year shifted their positions this year.
Supervisor Dennis Kussmann, who represents the city of Clintonville, said he received no contacts from his constituents either for or against the proposal, so he called and visited with them.
“Eighty percent of the people in my district were in favor of biting the bullet and going forward,” said Kussmann, who opposed $4 million in borrowing for county roads last year. He noted that one of his constituents said the money she saved in wear and tear on her car would compensate for the increase in her property taxes to pay the loan for road construction.
Supervisor DuWayne Federwitz, who represents the rural Clintonville area, said the bonding package would cost the owner of a $100,000 home in Waupaca County no more than an additional $3 in property taxes annually.
Federwitz noted that interest rates were at an all-time low and construction costs would only rise if the county continued to delay the rebuilding of the roads that were most in need of repair.
“What each of you have today, by voting for this bonding, is an opportunity to save the taxpayers a minimum of $6 million,” Federwitz said.
Supervisor Gerald Murphy said he was skeptical about the highway department’s claim that no more bonding would be needed for road projects at the end of the six-year bonding period.
“Remember the promise to the taxpayers when a half of a percent was added to the sales tax to pay for the courthouse,” Murphy said. “That debt is paid, but the sales tax remains the same.”
Murphy said the bonding package was based on a number of assumptions about future interest rates, credit ratings, future inflation, growth in equalized valuation and the ability of taxpayers to pay for the county’s additional borrowing.
“I get real nervous when dealing with assumptions instead of hard facts when asking our taxpayers to shoulder this new load,” Murphy said. “A hard fact is that to many citizens in our county the recession is still real and a great burden to them, forcing them to make hard, basic economic choices.”
Murphy noted that the nation’s unemployment rate had risen to 9.2 percent and that foreclosures were at or near an all-time high in Waupaca County.
“A hard fact is that we are asking the taxpayers of our county to bear the burden of higher taxes when the state is trying to get us to hold the line and when many of our citizens can least afford these taxes,” Murphy said.
Supervisor Pat Craig, of Royalton, also spoke against the bonding proposal. She said the county’s mill rate for debt service will rise from $1.44 per $1,000 of property value to a high of $1.58 per $1,000 of property value as the county’s various bonds mature.
“Our policy of the county target of $575 direct debt per capita will be exceeded with a rate of $743 per person with this $13.5 million note. This is $168 over the policy limit we set,” Craig said.
Craig said she would rather see a “slow and steady” reconstruction of 50 miles of county roads at $2.6 million per year, rather than the 22.4 miles in six years for $24 million in six years.
“Our existing principal due on all our loans is $27.1 million,” Craig said. “With this resolution we will be at $40.62 million.”
She said that $5.43 million of the county’s current $16.466 million budget was going toward paying for existing debt.
“Almost 24 percent is for debt and we are continuing to add,” Craig said.
County Board Chairman Dick Koeppen said the three most important sectors of Waupaca County’s economy are manufacturing, agriculture and tourism.
“They all depend on good roads,” Koeppen said. “If we want to continue our economic development in Waupaca County, we need to continue doing a good job with our roads.”
Koeppen also noted that if the board approved the new bonding, Waupaca County would be at 14 percent of its total borrowing capacity.
“There are many municipalities and counties that wish they were at only 14 percent of their borrowing capacity,” Koeppen said.
The county board voted 22-5 to authorize the bonding. The proposed bonding package needed a super-majority, 21 votes, to pass.
Voting against the bonding were Supervisors Murphy, Craig, Robert Ellis, Jack Penney and Dave Johnson.