Saukville town officials concede route has been neglected because of cost
The power of the annual meeting was in the spotlight in the Town of Saukville last week, as electors ordered town supervisors to pursue a pair of initiatives.
In addition to reviewing statistics compiled over the previous year, the annual meeting allows residents to voice concerns and give direction to the Town Board.
About a dozen of the 30 residents attending the meeting live on Blueberry Road, and most supported a call to aggressively pursue repairs to the deteriorating road on the town’s northern limits.
Four years ago, the town hired an engineer to assess the ongoing problem of failing pavement on the road.
That report showed it would likely require elevating long sections of the road by as much as 10 inches to eliminate recurring pavement problems.
The extraordinary measures are needed because part of it was originally built through a bog, requiring the installation of a corduroy road — a design which used timber laid perpendicular to the road to provide a solid roadbed.
The “floating road” has repeatedly caused that timber base to heave in several places, creating ridges where the old wood has risen. Especially deep potholes have exposed the splintering timber.
The engineers said the drastic road rebuilding project envisioned would cost more than $100,000, far more than the town had available in its road budget, so the work was never pursued.
However, residents reminded town officials at the annual meeting that the problems haven’t gone away.
“I am concerned about safety. I have never seen it this bad,” said Terie Leicht, a 30-year resident of Blueberry Road.
“The potholes have gotten so bad, someone on a bicycle or motorcycle is going to get seriously hurt if they flip over their handlebars.”
Another resident, Ginny Pierson, said the risk of serious injury has reached the critical stage.
“Either it has to be fixed or close the road,” Pierson said.
Supr. Curt Rutkowski, who has been assigned the duty of monitoring roads in the town, said a recent road inspection confirmed that Blueberry Road is one of the worst roads in the township.
As the road maintenance discussion wound down, a motion was made by resident Ken Watry that the town have the worst of the potholes on the north end of the Blueberry Road dug out and filled by the end of the year.
Resident Bruce Schoenleber objected to the motion from the floor, saying it was orchestrated by a small special-interest group.
“Blueberry Road is a money pit,” Schoenleber said.
“Since it is unstable, built on a marsh, I think it is going to cost enormous amounts of money.”
Still, the motion was supported by an 8 to 6 vote of town electors.
A follow-up motion made by Marvin Hoffmann, and unanimously approved by the audience, gave the Town Board the discretion to decide how much money should be spent on Blueberry Road repairs.
Supr. Mike Denzien said the board would be bound by the directive, but it might mean other road work earmarked by the town won’t get done this year.
Officials noted it costs an estimated $125,000 for each mile of road that is repaved.
“For two miles of road, that’s an expensive dance,” Rutkowski said.
Town Chairman Don Hamm, who lives on Blueberry Road, said the repair directive is another indication that the town needs to adopt a different strategy when it comes to road maintenance.
“We have a lot of crappy roads,” Hamm said.
“We can get a couple roads fixed each year with the money we have on hand, but we are going to have to raise taxes or borrow money to get more done.”
Either approach, Hamm said, may require the support of voters in the form of a road referendum.
“It is possible to put together a referendum to raise taxes for roads, but those generally get voted down,” Denzien said. “There are plenty of people who don’t want to see their taxes raised.”
Because the town has fewer than 3,000 residents, Hamm said additional road money could be requested at a future annual meeting, but even that would require some advance legwork.
He said his goal is to prepare a five-year road plan that will let the town get caught up on deferred maintenance.
That plan, Hamm said, is certain to have a significant financial impact.
“I don’t see any appetite to borrow money for roads, none whatsoever,” he said.
“However, I guess someone has to be the bad person and raise taxes. I may get voted out of office if we raise taxes, but I never intended this to be a long-term position.”
Quarry Committee member Victor Frank said the town might be able to tap an alternate source of funding for road repairs by pursuing an agreement with Ozaukee County that would offer road work as reimbursement for decades of depleted natural resources.
The town has asked the county for free road repairs as compensation for the material taken from county-owned gravel pits over the decades.
Hamm said he has been in touch with county officials about the proposal, but nothing has been finalized.
Such an agreement would need approval from the County Board.