Tag Archives: City of West Bend

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.

West Bend Evaluates Transportation Spending and Funding

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.

 

Transportation Meeting Tonight in West Bend

FYI. They are floating the idea of a wheel tax for West Bend. It might be worth West Bend residents’ time to voice your opinion on that before recommendations get to the council.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WEST BEND – A transportation committee created by the West Bend Common Council will gather public input next Monday evening as part of its assessment of transportation funding.  District 5 Alderman Rich Kasten, who chairs the committee, announced that the hearing will be held in the council chambers at city hall, 1115 S. Main Street, beginning at 6:00 p.m. on Monday, August 10.

“The committee has reviewed street condition data and the methods used to prioritize street repairs and maintenance schedules while also looking at comparable communities,” said Ald. Kasten.  “The purpose of this meeting is to give the public an opportunity to let the committee know whether or not significant changes to the city’s efforts are warranted.”

The city engineer’s office will provide information on the current means of identifying roads needing improvements and a history of funding levels.  The city has increased the amount it funds roads over the past several years.

“Investing in street upkeep has been a priority for the common council,” said Kasten.  “But it’s also an expensive priority and one that can’t keep up with the needs.”

The committee also expects to conduct an online poll this year before finalizing its report and submitting to the common council.

For more information, contact:

T.J. Justice |
City Administrator
(262)335-5171

Randy Koehler Returns to City Government

From the Washington County Insider.

Randy Koehler returns to West Bend government: This past April former Dist. 4 alderman Randy Koehler stepped down from local government after losing the April 7 election.

Now, three short months later, Koehler is back and on Monday the West Bend Common Council will approve several mayoral appointments as Koehler will be added to a handful of committees including the Board of Zoning Appeals, the Ethics Committee and the Redevelopment Authority.

Monday’s meeting gets underway at 6:30 p.m.

Koehler was approved by all three committees tonight. This is great for West Bend! Koehler is a smart, conservative guy who has, and will, serve the community well.