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Mayor to present his wheel tax plan next week PDF Print E-mail
Daily News
Wednesday, 03 January 2018 19:34

Mlada is looking for feedback on proposed $20-per-vehicle levy to help pay for road maintenance in Port

    Port Washington Mayor Tom Mlada will present his proposal for a $20 annual wheel tax to residents during an informational meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 9, at City Hall.
    Following the presentation, Mlada and Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven will field questions from the crowd and listen to comments about the tax from the audience.
    “We’re really hoping for a good turnout and a dialog with residents,” Mlada said.
    Mlada, who unveiled his plan in November, said Tuesday he believes the wheel tax is an important component in the city’s plan to address deteriorating roads.
    The tax would not supplant the city’s current spending on roads but instead supplement it, he said.
    “We’re in a little bit of a hole right now, and we’re trending downward,” Mlada said, noting the city has projected it would take a $2 million investment annually for 20 years to fix all the roads that need repairs.
    “We can’t borrow for that. That isn’t sustainable,” he said. “We’re trying to increase the pool of revenue the city pulls in through development, but some of that will take 10 or 20 years to realize.
    “We can’t tax our way out of this, so we’re really forced to look at a limited plate of options.”
    The wheel tax, he said, is on that limited plate.
    According to the Department of Transportation, 19 communities and six counties in the state charge a wheel fee. They range from small communities such as Gillett and Lodi to large cities like Sheboygan, Beloit and Milwaukee.
    Communities determine how much the wheel fee is — it ranges from $10 in Tigerton, Iron Ridge and Kaukauna to $30 in Milton and Milwaukee County — but the money must be used for transportation needs.
    The money is collected by the DOT when drivers renew their vehicle licenses, although some plates are exempt from the tax, such as antique and collector plates, farm trucks and motor homes.
    The $200,000 Mlada estimated the city would collect annually would pay for resurfacing two-thirds of a mile of street, resurfacing and replacing the curb along one-third mile or completely reconstructing almost two city blocks.
    There is a proposal before the Legislature that would require communities to hold a referendum on a wheel tax before it is be imposed — and require communities where the tax is already in place to hold a vote on the issue.
    While some have suggested the city should wait to see what happens with this legislation before the city acts, Mlada said that isn’t the right course of action.
    “We don’t have that luxury of waiting,” he said. “We have to do what we think is right for our local community.”
    He compared the issue to the breakwater situation, saying that if the city waited for the federal government to fix the structure, nothing would have gotten done. But the city moved ahead and raised money for repairs to the breakwater, which is largely stabilized and improved.
    Mlada’s plan has met with mixed reaction, but he said he is commited to the wheel tax.
    “This is not a problem that’s going to fix itself or a problem that’s going away in time,” he said. “There’s no quick fix.
    “This isn’t the be all, end all solution. It’s a $200,000 revenue stream we could count on to help make a dent in the problem we have.”
    Many of those who have expressed reservations about the wheel tax don’t fully understand the issue, Mlada said.
    “Many of them feel there are other options,” he said. Some have suggested a sales tax be imposed, something cities cannot do, while others have suggested increasing property taxes to cover the full cost of road repairs, something the city is unable to do with the current levy limits.
    Some people have suggested selling city properties, Mlada said, but there are a limited number of parcels the city could sell.
    When the city does sell land, he noted, the funds are quickly spoken for with other unfunded needs.
    “The solution really does have to be cumulative. It’s going to have to be a multitude of things,” Mlada said.
    If the city does impose a wheel tax, it could set a sunset date on the tax, he said.
    “I think that’s a conversation for the council,” he said.
    Mlada said the comments made Tuesday will be taken to the Common Council’s Tuesday, Jan. 16, meeting, where he hopes aldermen will decide how to proceed with the proposed tax.
    “I’m hopeful in the next month or so we would adopt it,” he said, noting it takes three months after adoption for the state to begin collecting the wheel tax.Daily Press