Tag Archives: City of West Bend

Family of Drowned Girl Sues West Bend

The inevitable lawsuits that follow in the wake of tragedy.

A Milwaukee family is suing an assortment of West Bend officials over a drowning death at Regner Park.

According to a lawsuit filed on July 21st, 6-year-old Swannie Her was swimming at Regner Park on June 11th, 2016, when she was found unresponsive in “four to five feet of water in the south west area of the pond.”

The family says three lifeguards were at their stations, while more than 200 people swam in the pond.

State law requires 5 lifeguards to be stationed for swimming areas larger than 10,000 square feet. The square footage of the swimming area is not posted, but a to-scale map posted on the city website shows it to be between 30,000-60,000 square feet.

According to the lawsuit, “three lifeguards actively monitoring the water were insufficient to meet the requirements of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.”

The family also says Her was swimming in an area of the pond that requires a swim test and wristband to access. They say she had not taken a test, and was not wearing a wristband.

City Wants Access to County Sales Tax

Heh. This is another stark reminder of the lies of politicians.

Washington County officials implemented a sales tax a few years ago to fund different initiatives — now municipalities want to access those dollars to fund projects of their own.

Officials from West Bend are collaborating with other municipalities in the area to draft a resolution petitioning county officials for a revenue-sharing agreement to access almost $3 million of the county’s $11.4 million sales tax revenue.

City Administrator Jay Shambeau announced the measure during the June 5 meeting as part of an update to the city’s 10-year financial plan when he alluded to possible alternative revenue streams.

“There are some other options that are potentially out there for the council to consider,” he said. “One is a portion or a tax sharing with the county sales tax. I have begun to have some conversations with the county about that.”

The reporter glosses over it, but one must remember the history here. Washington County implemented a county sales tax several years ago to pay for some specific “critical” capital projects like the new radio system that the Sheriff needed for public safety. The tax was supposed to pay for those capital projects and then go away. As almost always happens, after those projects were long since paid off, the tax is still here. County officials simply kept the tax going and used it to pay for other stuff. It once again proved the maxim that “there’s no such thing as a temporary tax.”

Now the city is looking over at that pile of money extracted from taxpayers and wants a slice. Never leave a pile of money around a politician…

A Message From Our Mayor

It has been 6 years since this community first trusted then elected me to be its’ Mayor.  Thank you for re-electing me to a 3rd term this past week.  Even though I ran unopposed, I used the occasion to reflect on our recent accomplishments and to listen to the public regarding their questions about the future.  Through those discussions, several common themes arose:

  • City Staff – our leadership team has several new faces and new professionals dedicated to improving West Bend. We recently welcomed Michelle Hoey as our HR Director and Stephanie Justman as City Clerk.  Jay Shambeau, hired last fall, is up-to-speed and well on his way to being the leader of our organization.
  • New Development is strong.
    • Soon to be opened Meijer and recently opened Delta Defense corporate headquarters will be joined by a 110,000 square foot home to Extra Space Storage on the City’s south side. Located in our Corporate Center, this state of the art, climate controlled facility continues the trend of high quality new development entering our market.
    • Nationally and locally a strong point of new residential development is in the apartment and rental markets. While the City has not rezoned any new green field property for multi-family since I have been Mayor, we are seeing strong demand for new, urban, non-subsidized rental units.  Generally geared toward both empty nesters and younger aged singles we expect properties already zoned appropriately and in-fill sites to be attractive.  Staff, the Council and Plan Commission are focused on following our strategic plan(s) to ensure a positive mix of single and multi-family options are available.
  • Partnerships are a key to ensuring efficiently run operations and help create a strong link between city hall and the public.
    • After several years of planning, construction is underway on the shared Washington County/City of West Bend employee on-site health clinic. Housed at the County this partnership is a fantastic example of your governments breaking down barriers and working together for the benefit of our employees as well as the public.
    • I recently had the honor of addressing the full team of West Bend Mutual employees. This organization was born here and I am proud they choose to continue to call West Bend home.  They exemplify the very fabric of who West Bend is.  Their entrepreneurial spirit and high quality work environment is only matched by their commitment to being the best corporate citizen we could hope for.  Their nature and positive influence is felt in every corner of our community.
  • Whenever I am at a community leader conference, without exception, our strong downtown environment is brought up. Other communities are begging to find out our ‘secret’.  I let them know the formula is simple.  A strong dose of gutsy entrepreneurs combined with great cultural attractions such as MOWA and an appropriate amount of public support equals a vibrant and exciting city center campus.
    • After 4 years of planning we have reached the stage where revitalizing the east river bank is becoming a reality. Pending final community fundraising efforts, we expect the two phase project to begin in late 2017 and be completed in the spring of 2018.  This combined with improvements unveiled in 2016 will continue the one-of-a-kind rebirth of downtown West Bend.
    • Strong interest in several remaining properties east of the river have the potential of adding significant tax base, high quality development and an exciting mix of commercial and residential opportunities. Progress such as this ensures a consistent flow of users to our businesses and other amenities.
  • Finances are the backbone of what we do and also direct our future.
    • Since 2011, overall City Debt has been reduced by about 20%. Debt levels were uncomfortably high and significant efforts by staff and the Council are getting them to appropriate levels.  We have work to do but we are trending in the right direction.
    • Reserves, once dangerously low, are up about 40% since 2011 and are now within a range our advisors deem acceptable. This was a significant undertaking and will be a focus moving forward.
    • We continue to invest heavily into road maintenance. Once a line item of $750,000 we now allocate almost 40% more annually, or $1,040,000.  This increase combined with recently enacted Prevailing Wage Laws will help us continue to maintain more road miles each year.
    • Overall, the true Cost of Doing Business, our real cost of operating West Bend was 8.8% less in 2016 than it was in 2011. This means we have reduced debt, increased reserves, allocated more toward road maintenance while costing the taxpayers significantly less.  Thank you to all involved.  To me, this is how government should be run.

As we continue through 2017 and already look toward 2018 we will be working hard to ensure we are investing each dollar wisely while also planning ahead guaranteeing a strong future for West Bend.  Please stay tuned, stay involved and thank you once again for allowing me to serve.

Kraig K. Sadownikow

Mayor – City of West Bend

Chickens Flee the Coop

Well, that was a short-lived effort.

West Bend will remain chicken-free as officials highlighted their concerns to permit chickens in the area, despite several constituents publicly stating they are in favor of the measure. An ordinance that would modify the municipal code to allow chickens within city limits failed Monday because no other Common Council members would support the motion introduced by Alderman Chris Jenkins. Many highlighted enforcement issues and concerns from residents worried about the smell and noise.

Chickens Coming Home to Roost

The chicken craze is coming to West Bend.

According to the proposed ordinance, individuals who wish to keep chickens must pay for and possess the necessary license, and must keep the area clean, sanitary, and free from odors and vermin.

The ordinance also limits permission to those living in single-family dwellings and owner-occupied duplexes. It states roosters are not permitted at any time and slaughtering animals is not allowed.

The chickens must be kept in a waterproof,

rodent-proof and predator-proof enclosure in a fenced-in area. They cannot be placed in the front yard and have a side and rear yard setback of at least 5 feet. Residents are also not allowed to place the enclosure within 25 feet of any residential structure on an adjacent lot.

Eh, whatever. We have ordinances for nuisances, noise, etc. As long as those are enforced, I don’t have a problem with people keeping chickens. It’s probably less annoying than some folks’ dogs.

City of West Bend Has Come a Long Way

Below is a letter that the Mayor of West Bend, Kraig “Sat-on-a-cow” Sadownikow, sent to the council. Watching the city has been a bit boring in the past few years precisely because they have just been being fiscally responsible and good stewards of the taxpayers’ money. Now we are seeing some of the rewards. West Bend is in infinitely better financial shape than almost every other city and the services provided by the city are still more that sufficient. It can be done. Kudos to the mayor, council members, and city staff for their leadership. I’d like to see some of this kind of leadership over at the school district and county…

Hello Council – I know municipal numbers are boring to most people, but the discussion last night about the City’s Fund Balance was really important. 

In 2011 and ‘12 we had an 11% Fund Balance.  This means 11% of our annual budget was in a reserve account for emergencies.  Moody’s Bond Rating Agency along with Baker Tilley, our Financial Consultants recommend a minimum of 17% otherwise our bond rating was in jeopardy.  These are not small dollars.  Each 1% equates to about $250,000.  Moreover many comparable municipalities are in the 25-30% range…….we really had a long way to go.

The Council took action in 2013/14, to put in place a policy that forced us to grow to the minimum of 17% and then requiring public action to drop below that amount in the future.  We hit 17% in 2015 and have grown to the 22% we are at now……..basically doubled our reserves in 4 years, adding about $2,500,000.  This was accomplished without raising taxes, while also increasing funding for Road Improvements by 40% over the same time,  while reducing City debt by over 20%, while maintaining a competitive salary and benefit package for employees and maintaining high quality services for our constituents.

Congratulations and Thank You to all of you along with our staff.  This work will begin paying financial dividends in the near future.

Additionally, I took a look at unemployment statistics recently and found that  November unemployment was 3.2%…….5th best of the 32 largest communities in the State.  Top 3 are usually Sun Prairie, Madison and Fitchburg due to UW and State gov’t…..we beat communities like Neenah, Appleton, Brookfield, etc.  In March of 2011 we were at 11.1% and 3rd worst in the State, only ahead of Racine and Beloit.

While the pure unemployment rate is better for everyone, the key in West Bend is our skyrocketing up the chart comparing us to other ‘large’ cities in WI.  Really good trend.

I know spending money is more fun than not and saving money is harder than buying new things but the decisions we have made in the recent past are putting West Bend in a better financial position for the future….hopefully the near future.  Because we have made sound financial decisions, the rebounding economy and increased development will compound our positive trends.

Every constituent, staff member, alderman and even Mayor has a ‘pet project’ or two that they feel strongly about.  Let’s stay focused on investing in items that have a long term benefit to the wellbeing of West Bend and are prioritized in order of Public Safety, Infrastructure and Quality of Life.

Thank you again for working hard to leave West Bend in an even better position than we found it.

West Bend Maintains Flat Spending for 6th Consecutive Year

Wow. Some amazing work happening in West Bend. Kudos to the Mayor and the Council.

Common Council members approved the 2017 budget during the Nov. 14 meeting that maintains the tax rate at $8.51 per equalized value, imposes a 2 percent merit pay adjustment for some employees, a $225,000 increase in contingency funding and road maintenance, and that continues to limit borrowing to $1.5 million annually to fund capital improvement projects.

“We are proud to say that the level of government is right around that same 2011 spending mark that we had been maintaining for a long time,” City Administrator Jay Shambeau said. “That comes with great accomplishment in trying to do things at a very lean manner, but also comes with somewhat of a risk.”

There have been multiple meetings related to the budget dating back to early October. At one session, Mayor Kraig Sadownikow instructed administrators to accommodate a merit pay increase for personnel while leaving the tax rate steady.

At a subsequent meeting, Shambeau warned the public that state transportation aid funding would be less than the previousyear by about $100,000. Staff and administrators are adjusting the budget to accommodate that shortfall.

The budget will generate an estimated $20.6 million in revenues from property taxes, along with a general fund balance of about $23 million. They will also pay slightly more than $4 million in interest and principal for debts incurred.

To incorporate the decreased state funding and Sadownikow’s directive into the budget, Shambeau and staff had to reduce expenses or find additional savings in other areas.

West Bend City Clerk Resigns

She’ll be missed.

Nov. 13, 2016 – West Bend, WI – West Bend City Clerk and assistant City Administrator Amy Reuteman is leaving.

This is a story you’ll read first at WashingtonCountyInsider.com

An email was sent Friday announcing Reutemen was leaving to take a job in Adams County.

Reuteman has worked with the city of West Bend for 16 years; she’s been the city clerk the past eight years and last November 2015 she was tabbed as the new assistant city administrator in West Bend.

City Delays Project to Take Advantage of Change in Prevailing Wage Law

It’s good to see the city being smart and using the change in the law for the taxpayers’ benefit.

West Bend officials will delay advertising a work contract, taking advantage of a change in the law, to determine if they are able to reduce the cost or solicit additional bids for a Public Works project.

Members of the Common Council unanimously voted Monday to permit city administrators to advertise a sanitary sewer extension for vendors to submit bids, with the caveat they publish it at the beginning of 2017 when changes to the prevailing wage law take effect.

Trial Set for TJ Justice

As the West Bend City Council chooses his replacement tonight, a trial date has been set for former West Bend City Administrator, T.J. Justice. He is accused of child enticement-prostitution and soliciting a child for prostitution – both felonies. His jury trial is set for December 13th in Waukesha County.

Incidentally, West Bend’s new City Administrator is Jay Shambeau, who will be leaving his job as the county Planning and Parks administrator.

 

 

Technology Eliminating Government Jobs

The City of West Bend is reducing its costs and headcount.

City officials purchased trucks with a mechanical lever arm that drivers can maneuver to grab cans from curbs and empty them into a storage area on the vehicle. Prior to the purchase, additional staff was required to perform the same work.

Neumann sent a memo to acting City Administrator Amy Reuteman stating the upgraded trucks reduced the number of required employees from seven to three. Having anticipated the upgrade, city administrators cut a position in the department.

You always hate to see people lose their jobs. Hopefully these folks can be repurposed elsewhere. I don’t have the cost of the new trucks at my fingertips, but I remember that the ROI when they purchased them was pretty strong. Still, it’s good to see government actually being reduced for once.

West Bend to Allow Limited Hunting in City Parks

It’s a start.

Members of the Common Council voted 5-4 on Monday to approve an ordinance to allow a change to the municipal code that allows residents to hunt deer with crossbows and bows and arrows at public parks in the city limits of West Bend. Mayor Kraig Sadownikow was the tie-breaking vote, along with aldermen John Butschlick, Steve Hutchins, Mike Chevalier and Steve Hoogester.

The issue occupied two agenda items for the Common Council and Hutchins introduced the topic for members to discuss.

“We are going to hunt the parks,” Hutchins said. “Part of the reason for that is, if you hunt everything around it, the parks turn into sanctuaries.”

According to the ordinance, hunting activities will be governed by the city’s participation in the Deer Management Assistance Program governed by the state Department of Natural Resources, which is responsible for issuing the required permits.

The designated parks are Regner, Riverside, Ridge Run, Quass Creek, Bicentennial, Silverbrook Creek Parkway and Royal Oaks.

There should be some continued discussion of the best way to safely hunt in the parks, but there does need to be a mechanism for population control.

West Bend Mayor Sadownikow Hints at Run for Reelection

This would be good news for my little city. Mayor Sadownikow has been a great mayor.

Sadownikow said, “It’s very likely I will be running again.”

 

Finding Justice

My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here you go:

The city administrator for West Bend, T.J. Justice, has been arrested and charged with two felony counts — one for child enticement-prostitution and one for soliciting a child for prostitution. If convicted, Justice could spend the next 50 years in prison. Justice has posted bail and is on paid administrative leave from his city job until the Common Council decides what to do with him. At this point, there are more questions than answers, but the ramifications will be felt in our little city for some time to come.

According to the criminal complaint, Justice began texting with a teenage girl in May 2015. The texts were salacious, with Justice repeatedly and forcefully telling the girl that he wanted to have sex with her and was willing to pay her money for it.

In September 2015, the girl’s mother discovered the texts and responded to Justice saying, “no I’m 16, stop.” Justice responded with surprise at her age, but then appears to have continued aggressively soliciting the girl for sex with full knowledge that he was pursuing an underage girl. At one point he even allegedly texted, “your age is a turn on accept that and let’s figure this out babe.”

This February, the girl’s mother contacted the police about the situation. A Muskego police detective posed as the girl and contacted Justice to set up a meeting Thursday to have sex for $200. Justice showed up right on time with a bottle of Viagra in the car and was subsequently arrested. After first denying it, he confessed claiming that he would only have had sex with the girl if she consented — as if that ameliorates the fact that he was allegedly intending to pay an underage girl, who cannot legally consent, for sex.

Where do we go from here? As far as Justice is concerned, the criminal justice system will take care of him. It appears from the criminal complaint that the police did a superb job collecting evidence and the likelihood of conviction is high. Hopefully the next time we hear from Mr. Justice is in 50 years when the girl is collecting Social Security and our grandchildren are arguing over where to place a released nonagenarian sex offender.

As for the city of West Bend, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered and city leaders will need to find a replacement while caring for city employees reeling from the news. If the criminal complaint is true, it is clear Justice is a rotten human being and a predator. It is possible that he was a master manipulator and successfully concealed his rottenness from friends and coworkers. That has certainly happened in the past where horrible people manage to appear perfectly normal in polite society.

It is also possible that signs were overlooked, or worse, covered up. We already know that Justice lied on his application for city employment, saying that he had a college degree when he did not. At the time, the Common Council and mayor considered that fact against his record of achievement and decided to forgive that transgression. Since Justice has been a city employee, were there other transgressions? Were there complaints? If so, what happened? Are there more victims?

One thing that jumps out from the criminal complaint is how brazen Justice was. He used his own phone and name while openly soliciting a teenage girl he had never met. It was either incredibly stupid or incredibly arrogant. While it is possible that Justice was able to hide his hideous behavior, the shameless way in which he behaved in soliciting a child makes it difficult to believe that this was the first and only incident.

As I said, there a lot of questions and it has been less than a week since Justice was arrested. While we must push for answers, we must also be patient as people work through the legal and procedural issues. Since this is a personnel issue with the city, some information won’t be forthcoming for some time, which will be frustrating. And there will be those who oppose the current city leadership who will seek to use this for their own political advantage. We must be discerning in separating fact from fiction.

This incident also serves as another in a long line of reminders that parents must monitor their kids’ online behavior. It is not about trusting your kids. It is about not trusting people like Justice who may be preying on them.

West Bend City Administrator Charged with Felony Child Enticement-Prostitution

Wow. This is pretty huge news for our little city. Via the Washington County Insider.

West Bend City Administrator T.J. Justice has been suspended with pay and is under investigation.

West Bend Mayor Kraig Sadownikow said there is an ongoing criminal investigation being performed by law enforcement in Waukesha County.

The city of West Bend Police Department will also be performing its own investigation.

MORE UPDATES FROM WASHINGTON COUNTY INSIDER:

Records from Waukesha County Court show a pair of search warrants were issued on April 22.
COURT ORDERED A $5,000.00 CASH BOND IN ADDITION TO A $20,000.00 SIGNATURE BOND. Defendant to comply with I.D. Processing. Defendant to have no contact with V. d/o/b 2/26/99 or her mother K listed in the Criminal Complaint.

Defendant to not access the internet for any purpose other than for employment during normal work hours to access the internet. Defendant to have no contact with juvenile females under the age of 18 in person or by text. Defendant allowed non collect phone calls.

According to Waukesha County Court records Justice is charged with a pair of felony counts of soliciting a child for prostitution and Child Enticement-Prostitution.

CHANNEL 12 HAS ADDITIONAL DETAILS:

Despite the information, Justice allegedly continued the pursuit, writing:

  • “The age thing doesn’t bother me as long as we stay honest with each other. I can offer some income here and there for you on the side.”
  • “We had a deal worked out once … I’m guessing you were 15 when we first chatted which is fine just be honest with things.”
  • “I’d love to explore the Sugar Daddy thing but it would HAVE to stay between us and I’d wanna talk to you by phone first.”
  • “We have sex… you get money and maybe shopping every once in a while or I pick you up jewelry here and there.”
  • “Your age is a turn on accept that and let’s figure this out babe.”

The teen’s mother ultimately turned over the phone to the Muskego Police Department. A detective there continued conversing with Justice, posing as “V.”

UPDATE: Washington County Insider has a copy of the criminal complaint.

Warning: graphic stuff ahead.

 

Wrong Bridge

This is hilarious

It’s a story we told you about first at WashingtonCountyInsider.com as contractors worked today to move the new pedestrian bridge in place over the Milwaukee River.
It appeared the bridge delivered was not exactly what the common council had approved as they signed off on a white bridge.  Mayor Kraig Sadownikow said the contractor made a mistake, it will be white and the contractor has until the end of May to have it all done.
“No joy when someone makes a mistake but it will be corrected,” Sadownikow said.
So the city ordered a white bridge. They got a brown one. And now the contractor has to paint it on site. At least it sounds like it’s not going to cost the taxpayers anything to fix the error.

Update on Bridge to Nowhere

From the Washington County Insider:

One more step forward to saving the theatre/bridge: The Downtown West Bend BID Board met Thursday morning and voted unanimously to cover a surety, up to a $75,000 on the theatre bridge.

That means if the project to rehab the bridge does not move forward by January 31, 2017 and the bridge has to come down the BID would be responsible for covering that cost.

The reason the surety is need is because in the coming weeks the mayor is going to go before the Common Council and try to convince them to waive a $45,000 federal grant to cover demolition of the bridge. “I have to protect the taxpayers,” said Mayor Kraig Sadownikow.

West Bend’s Bridge to Nowhere

There’s a bit of a kerfuffle going on in West Bend regarding a little bridge over the Milwaukee River that goes to nowhere. The Washington County Insider has been all over it for a while now. I encourage you to read through a lot of the back story there if you are interested. The West Bend Daily News also has a pretty good story about it in the newspaper today. I’ll give you the short version…

In 1982, an enclosed pedestrian bridge was built over the Milwaukee River between downtown and an outlet mall. Over time, the outlet mall was closed and then torn down. The bridge was abandoned and half of it was torn down with the mall. This is what it looked like this afternoon:

20151205_125814

 

Until recently, it still had its glass walls, but it is in the process of being demolished, which brings us to the kerfuffle.

Over the past few years, and through several iterations of debate, the city has been trying to figure out what to do about crossing the river between downtown and the Museum of Wisconsin Art. Currently, between the two streets that cross the river, there are two small pedestrian bridges and the defunct bridge to nowhere. Earlier this year, the city decided to construct a new pedestrian bridge and tear down the bridge to nowhere and one of the other pedestrian bridges which is old and very close to where the new one will be. Here’s a picture of the river as it stands today:

20151205_130121

You can see the current pedestrian bridge in the foreground and the bridge to nowhere in the background. Both are scheduled to be demolished and the new bridge built between them.

All good, right? No.

A group of people are also trying to renovate the long defunct theater in downtown West Bend. Their vision is to create an entertainment destination centered around the renovated theater. Central to that vision is the bridge to nowhere, which they want as a bridge to somewhere – namely parking across the river. Their plans are in the early stages, but they think that demolishing the bridge may endanger the whole project. To that end, Terry Becker has started a petition to save the bridge on Change.org.

The problem now is a matter of time and money. The project is already in motion. Part of the project is being funded with a grant from the state, which is based on plans to demolish the bridge to nowhere. If they don’t demolish the bridge, the city would have to waive the grant and come up with the funding from city taxpayers. That amount is about $45k, I think.

As Mayor Sadownikow points out in a letter on the Washington County Insider, if the Common Council is going to cancel the demolition and waive the state funds, they need to put it on the agenda for the January 4th meeting, which means it needs to be published by December 21st. Sadownikow says:

I will not support, nor ask the Council to support, removing demo from the State/Federally funded portion of the contract only to find out the Theatre project does not move forward and the money to remove the bridge is gone. West Bend will be left with half a bridge and the local taxpayer holding the bag.

I agree with that completely. The fact is that the theater and the bridge have been out of use and in disrepair for over a decade. We’ve heard rumblings of renovating the theater for years. I do not see any reason for the taxpayers to take a risk on having to pay tens of thousands of dollars on a promise of future development. And it is that… a promise. Nobody has put forth any actual plans with a plan for financing it yet.

The only way I would support changing the plan to demolish the bridge to nowhere is if two things happen. First, the developers who want it need to replace the money that would be lost in state funding if we do not demolish the bridge. Second, the developers would need to put funds in escrow for the purpose of demolishing the bridge if they do not complete their project by a specified date – perhaps this time next year. That way, if their plans fall through, we can still tear down the bridge so it won’t be an eyesore for another decade.

West Bend Transportation Survey

A few weeks ago, a City of West Bend committee held a public hearing to begin the process of gathering public input about how to prioritize and pay for transportation infrastructure needs in the city. I covered it in this post.

Now they are taking the next step by asking the public for their input via an online survey.

If you are a citizen of West Bend, you can respond to the survey here. I highly encourage you to do so.

It is a short survey. I had a couple of thoughts after filling it out. First, it is an online survey with no security to prevent people from outside of the city from filling it out or people taking it multiple times. It’s a handy and inexpensive way to gather information, but the results should only be considered as part of a bigger picture.

Second, I notice that it asks us to rank the options in order. The three options are to (1) keep the current plan, which is to continue increasing transportation spending at a rate higher than inflation; (2) add a wheel tax or other special tax; and (3) go to referendum for a property tax increase. It does not escape my notice that there isn’t an option to either keep spending at the rate of inflation or actually decrease spending. This frames the issue as transportation infrastructure spending must increase and the only questions are how much and how will it be funded? That’s unfortunate.

West Bend’s Mean Streets

My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. They’ve changed the platform where I can link to it now. Here it is:

It has long been held the government that has the most impact on one’s daily life is local government. Nothing could be truer than with the responsibility of local government to build and maintain the local streets on which we almost all travel and on which the commerce of a city flows. The city of West Bend’s Transportation Committee met last week to gather input about if and how the city should go about improving the overall quality of the city’s streets.

Measuring the overall quality of a city’s streets is no easy task. It is common for people to grouse about the streets because they are the most visible element of a city’s infrastructure. People drive, walk or ride on them every hour of every day, but virtually no one traverses all of the city’s streets in a year — much less a day. As such, someone’s perception of a city’s streets is largely driven by their experience on the streets that take them on their daily errands.

For example, my perception of West Bend’s streets is that they are pretty good. The streets between my home, church and frequent retail destinations are all in good condition. But when I occasionally find myself in some of the older parts of the city, the streets could use some work. For people who live and work in those older neighborhoods, their perception is likely that the streets of the city are in poor shape.

This makes it difficult for city leaders to use citizen complaints as a measurement of overall street quality. Citizen complaints are a very subjective view and one where one cranky citizen on a bad street with an axe to grind can give a massively skewed vision of reality.

In order to be more objective about measuring the aggregate quality of streets in the city, West Bend adopted the Pavement Surface Evaluation and Rating scale as a more-objective measurement tool. The PASER scale, which was developed by the University of WisconsinMadison Transportation Information Center, measures pavement on a scale of one to 10 with 10 being a brand new street. The scale is not perfect. It is still somewhat subjective because it only uses a visual inspection, but it allows a fairly straightforward way to measure the quality of West Bend’s roughly 130 miles of streets.

The PASER rating is calculated every other year. In 2011, some folks were concerned because West Bend’s overall PASER rating dropped to 5.89, as compared to a benchmark of 6.11 in 2005. In response, the city has increased spending for streets by about 25 percent over the past several years. In the most recent rating in 2013, the city’s PASER rating climbed to 6.05. The 2015 rating has not yet been released.

All of this brings us to the meeting last week in which the committee asked the citizens if they want better streets, and if so, how would they like to pay for them?

For the first question, it is easy for citizens to say they want better roads, but at what cost? West Bend’s current PASER rating is actually above average for cities of a similar size in Wisconsin. The estimates are that if the taxpayers increase spending on streets by about 150 percent, it would raise the city’s PASER rating by about one rating.

Going back to people’s perceptions, if the city’s overall rating is a 7.05 instead of a 6.05, would the citizens be more satisfied? That depends on whether or not any given citizen is able to take advantage of better streets. According to Alderman Rich Kasten, who chaired the committee, they have not found any study that correlates PASER rating with citizen satisfaction. We do not know if a PASER rating of seven versus six will have any perceptible impact on citizen satisfaction or if the PASER rating is really only good for prioritizing street construction projects.

As for the second question, if the citizens of West Bend want to improve their overall street conditions, the only way to do it is to spend more. That money has to come from somewhere. The committee formally asked for input on five options and discussed a sixth. The options were a (1) wheel tax; (2) garbage fee; (3) grants; (4) special assessment; (5) property tax increase; and (6) a city sales tax increase that is not currently permitted by state law, but is under consideration in Madison.

In short order, the answers to the options should be (1) no; (2) no way; (3) yes; (4) absolutely not; (5) nope; and (6) are you kidding me?

At this point, West Bend has already increased spending on streets substantially, but has not yet seen the full effect of that increased spending. The PASER rating increased in 2013 and will likely do so again when the 2015 ratings are tabulated.

Even if that were not the case, the city’s rating is already higher than those of similar cities. It is not justifiable for the city to increase spending even further — much less impose additional taxes — to increase a rating that has no known measurable impact on citizen satisfaction.

Kudos to the city of West Bend’s Transportation Committee for actively engaging the citizens in this important discussion about a critical responsibility of city government. They should advise the Common Council to stay the course, apply for grants that are available and continue to focus on prioritizing projects with an eye to overall citizen satisfaction.