We knew this was coming, but last night the West Bend Common Council voted to ask the voters through referendum how we want to address our transportation funding moving forward. Here are the four options upon which they settled:
According to the notice of advisory referendum, West Bend officials have planned four questions for the public to consider during the spring election. The first question is:
■ “Currently, the city of West Bend invests over $1 million (increasing 4 percent annually) on road and sidewalk maintenance,” the first question reads. “In addition to this annual investment, would you support the Common Council increasing property taxes by approximately $640,000, approximately by 23 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, to apply to borrowing that can be used for roads?”
The second question is a variant of the first but doubles the amount of the tax that officials will impose on residents.
■ “Currently, the city of West Bend invests over $1 million (increasing 4 percent annually) on road and sidewalk maintenance. In addition to this annual investment, would you support the Common Council increasing property taxes by approximately $1.2 million, approximately by 46 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, to apply to borrowing that can be used for road.
The third question also asks if residents are willing to pay more, but alters the manner in which it is imposed.
■ “Currently, the city of West Bend invests over $1 million (increasing 4 percent annually) on road and sidewalk maintenance,” the third question reads. “In addition to this annual investment, would you support the Common Council implementing a $20 vehicle registration fee (wheel tax) to apply exclusively to road designated borrowing?”
The final question is meant to address a collaborative initiative with the county.
■ “Washington County currently imposes a 0.5 percent sales tax throughout the county and none of these dollars are shared with the local municipalities (e.g. the city of West Bend). Municipalities have recently put forth a proposal to the County for sharing sales tax revenues,” the fourth question states. “Would you support an agreement where the County would distribute up to 25 percent of the revenues with the municipalities (approximately $600,000 for West Bend) to apply to road designated borrowing?”
Based on my conversations with some of the folks involved, I do believe that this is an honest, straight-forward question for the voters and the council intends to follow the public’s lead. There has been increasing frustration and tension on the council regarding transportation. Projects never get done as quickly as anyone would like. There are some who think the time has come to raise taxes and spend more on the roads. There are some who want to stay the course. There are some who are looking for an alternative way – like collaborating with the county for funding. There is an honest impasse and they are using the referendum process to get guidance on how to proceed from the public.
I do wish that they had an option for “stay the course.” I think they figured that no such option was necessary because it is the obvious option for people who vote, but don’t select any of the four options. But it would have been nice to have an affirmative option for “stay the course.” Or an option for “spend less,” but I suppose that was too much to consider.
What do you think?