By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — Tuesday night city leaders, including the common council, Mayor Chris Meyer, and City Administrator Steve Barg, met in what has been an ongoing process of strategic planning sessions, and one of the topics of discussion was a potential referendum to help the city afford to do more to repair Marshfield streets.
Alderman Ed Wagner had brought up a referendum at previous strategic planning meetings, and the rest of the common council showed openness on Tuesday to discussing the idea at a formal common council meeting. The idea is just now in a discussion phase and has not advanced into any form that the council could take action on as of yet. Mayor Chris Meyer said that a referendum was little more than a thought at this point.
“The council will be considering options for how we fund expanded road maintenance. A referendum is one option. There will be other options considered as well. The topic at strategic planning appeared to be specific to a referendum but was larger in that we need to find ways to fund and finance more road work. A referendum is not likely to be considered in the near future. There is much work that needs to go into that before it would actually happen, including the council approving it for referendum. At this point it’s just an idea,” Meyer said.
“The biggest complaint we get is about streets,” Wagner said regarding public feedback to the council.
City Finance Director Keith Strey said that if a referendum was initiated for street repairs, it would likely manifest in the form of a property tax increase.
“Our funding sources are getting tighter and tighter,” Strey said of the rationale behind a potential referendum. He noted that there has been action and pressure from the state to keep property taxes relatively static but that operational costs are rising for the city.
“Construction materials are not getting cheaper overall,” Strey said. He added that overall increases in transportation aid from state and federal levels have been “nominal” in terms of their effect on allowing the city to make repairs. In essence, state and federal aid to the city of Marshfield is relatively flat despite costs continuing to rise.
In the strategic planning session, city leaders discussed an extra $1 per $1,000 of assessed property value as a potential increase to ask for in the referendum, which on a $130,000 home would equal an additional payment of $130 in property taxes per year. The current mill rate or tax paid per $1,000 of assessed property value is just under $9.02 for the city of Marshfield.
Based on what is currently collected via property taxes, city leaders estimated this increase would bring in an additional $1.2 million to help with street maintenance. These figures were based on informal discussion and ballpark estimates at the meeting, not any definitive calculations the city has made.
City Engineer Tom Turchi said $1.2 million could potentially help do mill and overlay for about two miles worth of roads. Turchi described mill and overlay as a process where a layer of asphalt is pulverized and ground into the layer of gravel beneath it, which makes the base of the road stronger, and then a new layer of asphalt is poured over the top. This process would only be undertaken on ditched streets.
Turchi said mill and overlay can extend the life of a street between 30 and 35 years and costs about 75 percent less than a total street reconstruction. A total reconstruction, Turchi said, can result in 40-50 years of life for the street.
“It really isn’t cost effective to reconstruct every single street in the city. We’ve been using the mill and (overlay) process to get these streets up to useable again or brand new again, and it’s a cost effective way of doing it.”
Wagner said an advantage of a referendum is that it is ultimately up to the citizens to decide if they want to pay for improvements to roads.
“We’re not raising it and telling them, ‘We did this. Take it or leave it.’ We’re saying, ‘Do you want to pay for this?’” said Wagner.
Meyer said that he and the common council are open to feedback about this issue and other ideas that address improving the city’s infrastructure overall. You can find the phone numbers for Marshfield Common Council members at this link. Mayor Chris Meyer can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone at 715-384-2919.