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Residents may be asked to weigh in on wheel tax PDF Print E-mail
Community
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM   
Wednesday, 29 November 2017 19:15

Port officials consider meeting to present mayor’s proposed $20-per-vehicle levy to fund road repairs

    A wheel tax proposed for the City of Port Washington will likely be discussed at a public information meeting next month, but a date has not been set yet, Mayor Tom Mlada said Tuesday.
    Originally the city had talked about holding an informational meeting on the wheel tax in conjunction with a Tuesday, Dec. 12, public meeting on the 2018 road repairs, but officials last week suggested there may not be adequate time to cover both topics.
    “We want to have the meeting,” Mlada said. “We’re hopeful of a good conversation, good input.”
    And the Board of Public Works, which discussed the proposed tax when it met last week, did not make a recommendation on the plan.
    Members spent a significant amount of time discussing whether the $20 annual wheel tax was the best way to finance road repairs or whether a referendum should be held to instead increase the tax levy to increase the road reconstruction budget.
    Right now, state levy limits and expenditure restraint limitations “essentially prohibit budgeting to cover these costs,” Public Works Director Rob Noven said. So the city borrows for road repairs instead.
    “This is a way to lessen that cycle of borrowing,” he said. “It  would be meaningful revenue.”
    But Ald. Mike Gasper, a board member and transportation engineer, argued that it would be better for the city to hold a referendum to increase the tax levy.
    “To me, this should be more of a last resort,” Gasper said. “We’re never going to run out of roads to fix.”
    And because levy limits increase only by the rate of inflation while the cost of fixing roads increases by more than the rate of inflation, Gasper said, “we’re always going to be in a hole.”
    Mlada proposed the wheel tax on Nov. 7, saying it would provide the city with a way to fund improvements to its streets.
    The $20-per-vehicle fee, collected by the State Department of Transportation when drivers renew their license plates each year, would not supplement the funds currently budgeted and borrowed by the city for road projects.
    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.
    Everyone acknowledges that street repairs are a priority, Mlada said, but costs continue to increase while the city’s budget is lean, state aids are declining and levy limits mean the city can’t tax more for roadwork.
    “It’s not meant to be the total solution,” Mlada said.
    But Gasper said increasing the tax levy is a more prudent way to address the issue, because borrowed funds result in interest charges.
    If residents were to reject the idea of increasing property taxes to increase the road repair budget, Gasper said, then a wheel tax should be considered.
    But board member Eric Ryer said increasing taxes is an unpopular solution to a problem everyone agrees is out there.
    “Just about everybody has a car and uses the roads,” he said. “Everybody can agree that there are roads that need to be fixed. But people don’t like taxes.”
    Ald. John Sigwart, a member of the board, said he had received seven calls about the wheel tax, all of them from people against the tax. Five of these people said they preferred increasing property taxes instead, in part because the wheel tax is regressive.
    But Mlada argued that getting people to approve a referendum to increase the tax levy for road repairs “would be an uphill climb.”
    “No one is going to say these are popular or that people are excited to pay more in taxes,” Mlada said.
    Something needs to be done to ensure the city has enough money to adequately address its road situation, he added.
    “We don’t want to kick this down the road for the next generation,” Mlada said. “It’s an investment.”  
    Officials are elected to make these sorts of difficult decisions, he added, noting the wheel tax amounts to five cents a day over the course of a year for each vehicle.   

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