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Council pans wheel tax but mayor forges ahead PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 07 February 2018 19:14

Aldermen opposed to special levy but Mlada still wants a vote on his plan

    It looks as though Port Washington Mayor Tom Mlada’s proposed wheel tax is in for a rough ride.
    Mlada said Tuesday he would bring the wheel tax back for a vote when the Common Council meets on Wednesday, Feb. 21, despite vocal opposition expressed by aldermen.
    Three aldermen said they oppose the fee, and two others said they are struggling with the issue.
    “To me, one of the main functions of local government is to take care of the roads,” Ald. Dave Larson said. “I think that needs to be done through the tax levy and borrowing. I just don’t like the idea of fees.
    “The juice is not worth the squeeze on this one.”
    The idea isn’t popular among city residents, Ald. Mike Gasper said.
    “I’m not sure if anybody I’ve talked to has been in favor of this,” he said.
    But he added, residents have indicated they would be willing to support a referendum to raise the tax levy to pay for more road work.
    That feeling was echoed by Ald. John Sigwart, who said that of the 14 constituents he’s spoken to, 11 oppose the wheel tax.
    Of those 11, he said, eight residents said they would support a referendum to raise more money for roads.
    “I remain opposed to the wheel registration fee. I feel very strongly this is not popular in my district,” Sigwart said, adding, “I’m fearful if we would pass this, we wouldn’t have a prayer of getting a referendum through.”
    Mlada proposed the wheel tax in November, saying it would provide another source of funding to fix the city’s streets.
    The proposed $20 per vehicle wheel tax, which would be collected by the state when vehicle registrations are due each year and then sent to the city, would generate about $200,000 annually, Mlada said. That’s enough to resurface two-thirds of a mile of a street, resurface and replace the curb along one-third mile or completely reconstruct streets on almost two city blocks.
    It would not supplant but supplement the city’s annual borrowing of about $800,000 for road reconstruction and resurfacing, he added.
    “This is not a complete solution,” Mlada said. “This is not a sexy solution. But we do have to repair and maintain our infrastructure.
    “We do have some years coming up where we may not borrow at all. Absent this, we’ve got zero (funds) then. The reality is we need more revenue.”
    The city has about 16 miles of streets that are rated poorly, and it would take about $20 million to fix them all, officials have said.
    Even from the beginning, the wheel tax has come under fire from residents and officials.
    A number of officials have said the city should instead seek another way to fund roads, perhaps by holding a referendum to increase the levy limit so the city could directly tax residents more for road work.
    State levy limits prohibit the city from raising taxes significantly to finance roadwork, officials said.
    Sigwart said he prefers holding a referendum and increasing the levy, saying it’s one way to get the funds needed to pay for roadwork on a regular basis.
    Several other aldermen said they are unsure how they will vote on the wheel tax.
    “I’m struggling with this,” Ald. Mike Ehrlich said. “Ideally, I like the idea of going to referendum to raise the levy. If that doesn’t work, we’ve still got this (wheel tax proposal).”
    Ald. Dan Benning agreed, saying he hasn’t made up his mind of the wheel tax either.
    “We need to take a step back and take a look at how we do things,” he said. “We need to look at the bigger picture.”
    But Mlada said he believes this is the right time for a wheel tax, saying it will give the city some funds on a consistent basis to tackle its deteriorating streets.
    “I think this is a valuable fight to fight,” he said.

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