Road referendum set for Aug. 9 primary
Council also approves language explaining effect of yes and no vote
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD —After some debate about instead placing a referendum for road repairs on the November general election ballot, the common council voted 5-4 to place it on the Aug. 9 primary ballot and to approve verbiage, which is aimed at explaining the effect of a yes and no vote.
The referendum, if approved, would generate about $6.8 million over five years starting in 2017 for major road repairs. About $5 million of the $6.8 million total would go toward reconstructing several streets, with the remainder dedicated to providing funds for resurfacing streets.
The question, which will appear on the Aug. 9 ballot, will be worded as follows:
“Should the Common Council of the City of Marshfield increase the Municipal tax rate for a period of 5 years in order to generate funds that would be used exclusively for major street projects, with the increase not to exceed $1.00 per $1,000 of assessed value?”
The city drafted the following language, which will be shared with the public, describing the effects of voting yes or no.
“A “yes” vote on the question would increase the Municipal tax rate by an amount not to exceed $1.00 per $1,000 of assessed value, for a period of 5 years, in order to generate approximately $6.8 million that would be used exclusively for major street projects, including, but not limited to, reconstructions and overlays.
“A “no” vote on the question would produce no additional funding for major street projects, and may result in major street projects, including, but not limited to, reconstructions and overlays, being delayed.”
Alderwoman Alanna Feddick took issue with the explanatory language for the no vote.
“I guess I have a concern with the veiled threat that’s in the no portion of it, though,” Feddick said. “We have a street construction, reconstruction schedule. … We’re not talking about really delaying any projects. I mean they’d be sped up (with a referendum passing).”
Alderman Mike Feirer disagreed that the description of a no vote contained a “veiled threat,” saying that it was simply an accurate statement.
“If you don’t approve this, we’re not going to get these major projects done, and it’s going to set us back. So, It’s not a veiled threat,” Feirer said.
Director of Public Works Dan Knoeck, upon Alderman Tom Buttke’s request, described the current state of the city’s roads and how referendum funds could be used.
“Where we’re really falling short is the reconstruction projects. The CIP (capital improvement program) committee struggled on how to fund or how to prioritize even which street is more important,” Knoeck said. “We have some other projects in some other older neighborhoods that not only have poor streets but also have failing or near failing utilities under the street. And those are the kind of things we haven’t been able to fund.”
“It doesn’t seem likely that we’ll be able to fund those kinds of things without some additional revenue source,” Knoeck added.
The date debate
Alderman Rich Reinart said he would prefer for the referendum to be placed on the November general election ballot so that voter turnout would almost assuredly be higher than it would be for the Aug. 9 primary.
“I want to see as many citizens as possible vote for this,” Reinart said. “Less people turn out for the primary, so I would like to really see this in the fall when we’re going to have a good turnout for the election.”
City Administrator Steve Barg noted that if the referendum were to be placed on the November ballot and passed, the resulting new revenue would likely not be able to be applied to the city’s 2017 budget, because the city will be too deep in the process of approving the budget by that time.
Alderman Chris Jockheck also expressed a concern that the school district may go to referendum in November, and if the road referendum were on that same ballot it might have less chance of gaining approval.
“It’ll be difficult for each of these to pass if they’re both on the same ballot,” Jockheck said.
Barg noted that even if a referendum is not approved, citizens could still potentially see a tax increase unrelated to the referendum.
“There could be a tax rate increase later based upon the city’s annual budget process that is separate from the referendum,” Barg said.
Buttke suggested having a public gathering where citizens could ask questions to alderpersons about the referendum though no specific date was set.