Board urges residents to approve $125,000 annual increase it says is needed to keep pace with repairs
Frustrated by a highway budget that’s failing to keep pace with deteriorating road conditions, Town of Grafton officials have lobbied for the passage of a Tuesday, Nov. 4, referendum that will ask residents to spend $125,000 more annually for upgrades.
The latest public pitch came Oct. 8, when the Town Board held an informational workshop to discuss the referendum and field residents’ questions.
“The cost of manpower and materials is increasing beyond our ability to keep up with road repairs,” Town Chairman Lester Bartel told about two dozen people who attended the session.
“Nobody wants to pay more in taxes, but our roads, in my opinion, are one of the basic needs to preserve value in our town.”
Supr. Tom Grabow concurred, noting that 22.6 of the town’s 42 miles of roads received low ratings on a 2014 evaluation tour.
“Fifty percent of the town’s roads are failing. That’s why we’re pushing for the referendum,” Grabow said.
The town budget has included $400,000 for annual highway maintenance the past six years, but Bartel said that amount is no longer sufficient to cover road repairs. Although the state recommends reconstructing town roads every 20 years, the
highway budget limits those upgrades to a 40-year cycle, he added.
Highway aid from the state does little to help the town, officials noted. Bartel said the Town of Grafton gets only $96,000 per year in road aid compared to $700,000 received by the Village of Grafton.
The referendum will ask voters for permission to exceed the state-imposed levy limit for highway expenditures, starting in 2015.
The $125,000 increase would translate to $75 more in annual town taxes for the owner of a $300,000 house.
Few people at the session were critical of the request for referendum support. However, several questioned if the board had explored other budget options and wanted assurance the additional money would only be used for roadwork.
Grabow noted that the highway budget is a segregated fund that cannot be transferred for other town expenses without residents’ approval.
“How can we be sure the $125,000 will go for road maintenance and reconstruction and not snow plowing?” a resident asked.
Board members conceded that the highway budget has a variety of expenditures, including snow removal and salting, as well as roadwork. Bartel said that while heavy snowfall some winters could increase those costs, the intent of the referendum is clearly aimed at street upgrades.
“Spending could fluctuate depending on needs, but you’ve got to trust us a little bit,” he told the audience.
Supr. Karron Stockwell said town officials have explored other cost-saving options for road repairs but need taxpayers’ help.
“Our budget is tight. There are no excesses in any areas,” she said.
Supervisors Tom Sykora and Steve Schaefer also voiced support for the referendum.
“It’s not just something we want to do, it’s a great necessity,” Schaefer said of road upgrades.
Increased traffic and harsh winters have taken a serious toll on town roads in recent years. Among those in the worst shape, town officials 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 west of Port Washington Road are being planned by the Village of Grafton in 2015 as a joint project with the town. However, that project has yet to be finalized because of town concerns with the project cost and deferred special assessments the village has proposed for properties in the town when they would be annexed to the village.