Fall referendum authorized by board asks residents to OK annual highway budget hike
A fall referendum will ask Town of Grafton residents to spend $125,000 more annually on the local highway budget, paving the way for what officials said are much-needed road improvements.
The Town Board on Aug. 13 approved a resolution authorizing a referendum question for the Tuesday, Nov. 4, general election that asks permission to exceed the state-imposed levy limit for highway expenditures, starting with the 2015 budget year.
The town budget has provided $400,000 for annual highway maintenance the past six years, but officials said that amount is no longer sufficient to keep pace with deteriorating road conditions.
“It’s probably the biggest single complaint we have from residents,” Town Supr. Karron Stockwell said. “They want their roads fixed.”
Although the state recommends reconstructing roads every 20 years, the highway budget limits upgrades to a 40-year cycle, Town Chairman Lester Bartel said.
Town officials have spent several weeks discussing dollar amounts for the proposed budget increase, which would be for an ongoing basis.
The board initially discussed a possible increase of $170,000 annually to cover road reconstruction. That would mean a tax-rate hike of 34 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value — or $102 more in town taxes for the owner of a $300,000 house.
However, Bartel voiced concern about the $170,000 figure, saying that’s more than the town needs to step up road repairs and would make the referendum difficult to pass.
“I don’t know if I can defend $170,00. I think $100,000 will be more than adequate,” Bartel said. “You have to be careful not to try and catch up (with repairs) too fast.”
Approval of a $100,000 annual increase would translate to $60 more in town taxes on a $300,000 house.
Bartel’s argument didn’t sway other board members, each of whom said the town needs to make sure it can adequately cover increased costs. Supr. Tom Sykora suggested the town try for “$170,000 per year for three years and then see where we’re at.”
Stockwell said a referendum asking for a $100,000 increase would have a better chance of passing but believes residents might be more receptive to a larger amount if they understand the need to raise highway expenditures.
“We really have to promote this and have meetings dedicated to discussing it,” she said.
With a motion by Sykora, the board voted 3-1 to set the referendum request at a $125,000 increase. That translates to $75 more in annual town taxes on a $300,000 house.
Sykora, Stockwell and Steve Schaefer voted for the $125,000 increase, with Bartel opposed. Supr. Tom Grabow was absent.
Board members considered delaying the vote so that the dollar figure could be discussed further. They noted that town residents approved a 2012 referendum to upgrade the fire department and may be asked in 2016 to approve a referendum the Grafton School District is considering to upgrade buildings and grounds.
However, Town Clerk Amanda Schaefer told the board a decision was needed at the meeting to meet a deadline for the referendum to appear on the Nov. 4 ballot.
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 are being planned by the Village of Grafton in 2015 as a joint project with the town.