Written by STEVE OSTERMANN
Wednesday, 05 November 2014 18:26
Voters reject request for $125,000 increase in annual highway budget by nearly 2-to-1 margin
Voters in the Town of Grafton on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected a referendum asking them to spend $125,000 more annually for road repairs.
The referendum, which sought permission to exceed the state-imposed levy limit for highway expenditures starting in 2015, failed by a 1,611 to 813 margin.
Town officials lobbied for passage of the referendum, which would have increased the annual road budget to $525,000 — a total they said would help repairs keep pace with deteriorating conditions.
The increase would have meant a tax-rate hike of 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, or $75 more in town taxes on a $300,000 house.
Town Chairman Lester Bartel said he wasn’t disappointed by the referendum vote but was surprised by the nearly 2-to-1 margin of defeat. Before the election, he said he had not heard of any widespread opposition to the proposed budget increase.
“It’s not shocking, but I thought it would be closer,” Bartel said.
“People are telling us they don’t want to pay more in taxes to fix their roads, so we’ll have to get by with what we’re doing or look at other options.
“I’m not disappointed. We’ll move forward.”
The town budget has included $400,000 for annual highway maintenance the past six years, but officials said that is insufficient to meet a state recommendation of reconstructing all roads every 20 years. The current spending rate limits town road upgrades to a 40-year cycle, Bartel said.
Officials said more than half of the town’s 42 miles of roads received low ratings in a 2014 evaluation tour.
Few people spoke against the referendum at a public informational workshop Oct. 8. Several residents questioned if the board had explored other budget options and asked for assurance that the additional money would only be used for roadwork.
Besides repairs, the highway budget covers other expenditures such as snow removal and salting.
Bartel said the board will seek additional input from residents on more cost-effective options for road maintenance.
“The residents have spoken, and we’re the board of directors who have to do what we’re told,” he said.
Town polls had a turnout of 83% of registered voters.