Frustrated by shortage of repair funds, Grafton board may ask voters for assistance
Driven by deteriorating roads and a shortage of money to fix them, Town of Grafton officials are considering using a fall referendum to ask taxpayers for financial help.
“Our roads are getting worse, and our road budget has not kept up with the increased cost of repairs,” Town Chairman Lester Bartel said.
“We’re really struggling with the way things are going now, but we don’t have any options than to ask residents if they are willing to pay more.”
For years, the town had been able to keep pace with road upgrades with a budget that covered the annual cost of repairs and complete reconstruction of one mile of highways, Bartel said.
Although the state recommends reconstructing roads every 20 years, the town’s current highway budget of $400,000 limits those upgrades to a 40-year cycle, he added.
State-imposed levy limits prevent the town from raising taxes enough to increase the highway budget without a referendum.
“It’s not going to get any better. Right now, all we can do is continue to fill pot holes and fix shoulders,” Bartel said.
In recent months, the Town Board has discussed holding a referendum during the general election in November. Although the specific dollar amount remains undetermined, referendum talks have focused on an annual increase of $150,000 for highway repairs, Bartel said.
Based on the town’s $500 million property tax base, a $150,000 increase would require a tax-rate hike of 30 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. That translates to $75 more in town taxes for the owner of a $250,000 house.
The owner of a $350,000 house would pay $90 more in town taxes for a $150,000 spending increase.
“That’s what we would need to do to repair 1-1/2 miles of road per year,” Bartel said.
Increased traffic and harsh winters have taken a serious toll on town roads in recent years. Among those in the worst shape, Bartel said, are Falls Road east and west of Port Washington Road, Lakefield Road east of Port Washington Road, Ulao Parkway between Highway C and
Highway 32, Pleasant Valley Road and Edgewood Drive.
Upgrades to Falls Road — including widening the street, laying sewer and water mains, installing a bike lane, adding sidewalk to the south side of the road and repaving — are being planned by the Village of Grafton as a joint project with the town.
The upgrades are needed to accommodate increased traffic and serve the Falls Crossing and Blue Stem subdivisions, officials said.
The cost of the Falls Road project is estimated at $715,000, of which the village would pay $327,000 and the town would pay $219,000. The remaining $169,000 would be covered by Falls Crossing subdivision developer’s fees.
Bartel said town officials regularly receive complaints about road conditions. Although some residents understand the town’s financial constraints, few have voiced support for raising taxes to fix the problem, he added.
“It’s a question of how much more people are willing to pay,” said Bartel, who noted that town residents approved a 2012 referendum to upgrade the Grafton Fire Department and may face another referendum in 2016 if the Grafton School District seeks additional money to
repair buildings and grounds.
“The down side is that you don’t want to be the board that raises taxes, but it’s just a fact that improving services costs more money,” he added.
The Town Board will continue discussing the referendum option this summer, with finalization of wording expected in August, Bartel said.
“We’ll continue to work on it,” he said. “I believe that if we can get people to understand the challenge we face trying to maintain our roads, they may support this.”