Town meeting slated for Oct. 21
By John Faucher
Town of Mukwa residents will decide on the future of the town’s road conditions, at a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 21, at Bean City Ballroom.
The meeting is the result of lengthy discussions, which began this spring during the town’s annual meeting.
During the annual meeting, town board members and the electorate spent a majority of the meeting discussing deteriorating conditions on the town’s 42.5 miles of roads.
“A large number of town roads are deteriorating and the amount of money to make necessary repairs exceeds our budget by a vast amount,” said Town Chairman Jim Curns.
The town currently budgets $150,000 to $180,000 per year for roads.
“We can afford to replace approximately half mile of road each year,” said Curns. “At this current rate, we can replace roads on an 85 year cycle.”
“The goal is to be able to both properly maintain, and then replace roads at a 30 year cycle,” he said. That could add up to be a substantial amount of money to bring the town roads up to a better standard after years of under spending.
Currently, the town of Mukwa has the lowest tax rate among all townships in Waupaca County. Approximately five percent of the taxpayer’s total tax bill goes back to the Town of Mukwa, or about .99 cents per thousand.
Mukwa’s portion of the total tax levy has remained less than a dollar per thousand for nine of the past 10 years. A proposal to bring the roads up to par could mean that .99 cents, increases to roughly $1.93. With the increase Mukwa would still have the eighth lowest tax rate of the 32 towns in the county.
If the additional road funding is approved it would cost the average homeowner in Mukwa an additional $180 per year.
“For several decades our town was able to repave and maintain roads to a reasonable standard. With repairs, roads would last 30 to 40 years on average. At one time we could afford to repair and replace on average at 40 years of age,” said Curns.
Several things have changed in the past decade.
The town board recently communicated this to residents through a mailer informing them of the current budgetary status, and encouraged them to attend the Oct. 21 meeting.
In the letter, the board explained some history.
“Ten years ago, the state set limits on tax increases, effectively freezing our road budget at the level it was at. Towns could not raise taxes without voter approval to raise the levy above the state formula, which is at or somewhat behind the rate of inflation,” the board said in the letter.
“At the time of the tax freeze, the price of asphalt was around $27 per ton laid. Currently, bids we are receiving for asphalt are running $55 to $62 per ton laid. That’s a sizable cost increase,” the letter said.
Mukwa is not unique in its dilemma.
Road problems in other towns
On Monday Oct. 5 at the City of New London Public Works Committee meeting, Chairperson Mike Barrington voiced his concerns over the city’s deteriorating streets.
“I’m hearing more and more from residents who are asking when we’re going to do something about these streets that need repair,” said Barrington.
Mayor Gary Henke assured Barrington that part of next year’s bonding issue for the City of New London would be used to fund road repairs.
The committee began prioritizing road repairs and reconstruction projects as part of their long-range 10-year capital project planning process this year.
The topic of roads has also been a topic at the county level.
In July, Waupaca County Highway Commissioner Dean Steingraber told county supervisors that state and federal funding for county roads is not keeping up with the costs to maintain them.
“Every level of government is struggling with this issue – how to fund transportation,” said Steingraber.
The county board had considered a county wheel tax this year, but the board rejected adding $25 to the state $75 vehicle registration fee.
Statewide, the Transportation Development Association is working with municipal governments in a new campaign called “Just Fix It.” The campaign highlights the worst roads in the state and cites a national report that shows Wisconsin is the third worst in the nation for road conditions.
Solutions for Mukwa
Curns said it is time for residents to make a choice. “We have been warning of this for years in discussions at meetings and with town residents,” he said.
Residents will have a choice to raise taxes to cover road repair and replacement, through this special town meeting, Oct. 21.
He said they also have a choice to borrow additional money to replace roads; however, he said the town would pay interest on the money spent and maintain the same limited ability to pay.
“This would not be a viable solution for the long term,” said Curns. “There is no net gain in the long term in borrowing the money.”
In a conversation he had with Wisconsin Transportation Secretary Mark Gottieb, prior to the town’s annual meeting, Curns was told that borrowing to fix roads is not a good choice.
“It’s like a hamster wheel you can never get off,” said Gottieb.
Curns said if the town raised the current tax levy by approximately 5 percent, it would add about $200,000 to the town’s annual road budget.
“For that value we could pave about one mile of additional road per year, making a huge difference in the sustainability in the life of our roads,” he said.
“The solution is really up to the tax payer as the public is required to approve any tax levy change by statute. The town board alone cannot raise taxes and cure this road deficit under current rules,” said Curns.
A unanimous ballot gauging interest at the annual meeting, found residents were willing to pay more towards roads rather than let them go to gravel.
Curns said residents would be asked to decide this at the special meeting on Oct. 21.