West Bend’s Transportation Committee met tonight to discuss transportation funding and the city’s options. The Washington County Insider was there and has a full report here. Be sure to read the whole story, but the gist is that West Bend’s roads need some work and the committee is considering making a recommendation to the council of keeping the status quo or recommending one of the following:
1) Wheel tax – possibly $20 with 31,600 vehicles in West Bend over five years it would generate $3.1 million.
2) Garbage fee – $50 with 9,000 homes over five years would generate $2.2 million. It was noted that type of fee could impact the tax levy.
3) Grants – the city engineer said some were successful and others more difficult.
4) Special assessment – Kasten noted there was no appetite on the council for that.
5) Property tax increase
6) Sales tax increase – There’s apparently legislation in the works in Madison to increase local sales tax and allow municipalities to put it on the ballot and then target where the tax would go. This is nowhere near feasible yet.
I attended the meeting and here are my thoughts on the matter…
First off, I think that the committee is engaging in a sincere effort to address a real issue and listen to what the public wants. It was said a couple of times that it may be that the public doesn’t want to spend any more on roads and that’s fine. This meeting was for public input, but they also plan to do surveys and possibly a referendum if they ask for a new tax. Unlike a lot of public hearings I’ve been to, this one appeared to be a real effort to actually gather public input. Unusual… I know…
Second, it is worth noting the data behind the push. There are two measurements that the city uses to gauge the quality of the roads. The first is the “Paserware” or “Paser” system which grades all of the streets on a scale of 1 – 10 with 10 being a brand new road. This rating is released every 2 years. West Bend’s rating was a 6.11 in 2005; dropped to 5.89 by 2011; and was last rated a 6.05 in 2013. They expect the new rating for 2015 later this year. West Bend’s rating is a bit above average for cities of a similar size in Wisconsin.
The second way the city measures the overall quality of the roads is by citizen complaints. I asked about this at the meeting and there does not appear to be any quantitative data on citizen complaints as to how many there have been; who they are coming from; whether or not the volume has changed over time; etc. For example, one cranky citizen on a crummy street can give the appearance of a crisis if he called every alderman and the mayor once a week to complain.
Third, the city has increased the spending on roads by about 25% over the past few years. The city spends about $925k per year on road repairs.
Fourth, Alderman Kasten said that they looked for some studies or correlating link between Paser score and citizen satisfaction. At what point do people say that their city has good streets? At a score of 7? 8? 10? 5? A lot of that depends on whether you live on a good street or not, but how does the Paser score track to overall satisfaction? There isn’t any data to answer that question.
Fifth, the put up a slide that I couldn’t see very well that showed an analysis the city engineer did that estimated the city’s Paser score by spending. If I heard correctly, if the city roughly doubled the spending on roads, it would increase the city’s Paser score by about one point.
So what do I think? Based on the information presented, I don’t see any reason to consider any new funding for streets at this time. The city has already substantially increased spending in the past few years, but there hasn’t been enough time to evaluate the results of that increase. We know that the Paser score went up between 2011 and 2013, but we don’t know what it is now. We don’t know if the Paser score actually means anything to overall citizen satisfaction, but we can use it to compare West Bend to similar communities. By that comparison, the city is already faring pretty well.
As for the citizen complaints, we don’t know if the volume of complaints has changed since the city increased spending on roads. If we find that the Paser score increases in 2015, but the complaints remain unchanged since 2011, then what does that mean? Is the city prioritizing the wrong roads? If complaints have decreased as the Paser score increased, then shouldn’t we let the new spending rate continue as it is for a few years and see where that gets us?
One thing I know for certain is that, as several of the aldermen said, there isn’t any appetite in West Bend for new taxes – whether it be in the form of a wheel tax, increased levy, sales tax, or anything else.
I thank the committee for their serious and thoughtful look at one of the most important city functions.