By Chris Meyer
For the Aug. 9 primary, voters in the city of Marshfield will see something new on their ballot. While voters are not new to referendums for budget override authority for schools, this is the first time the city has asked for authority to increase taxes beyond state allowable limits. Understanding why this request is being made to the voters and what a “yes” or “no” vote mean are important before voting on Aug. 9.
Over a decade ago, the state of Wisconsin placed significant limitations on local units of government to increase revenues through raising taxes. Initially, a tax levy limit was implemented that limited new revenues a city could raise through taxation to a modest annual increase, usually around 2 percent.
Starting around 2010, this levy limit became a levy freeze. A levy freeze means that a city cannot bring in any more money in taxes this year compared to last year. There are some minor exclusions to this. Total taxes raised can increase for what is called “net new construction” as well as for some other exclusions, which usually result in the ability to raise taxes by around 5 cents per $1,000 to cover some inflationary costs.
Over the last six to seven years, the city of Marshfield, like all communities, has reduced the level of its cash reserves, reduced or restructured staffing, and modified plans for projects to reduce costs in an effort to stay within stagnant budgets year to year. Unlike most other communities, Marshfield has also been able to increase funding for roads over this time by placing a high priority on our road projects.
Since 2010 annual funding for road resurfacing has increased significantly from around $500,000 annually to nearly $2 million annually. The city continues to invest in maintenance efforts such as crack filling and seal coating to extend the lives of our roads as long as possible. Still, road infrastructure remains an area that generates the most complaints throughout the community as well as one of the largest budget items the city faces each year at budget time.
The common council voted overwhelmingly earlier this year to ask the voters if they would approve a five-year plan that increased taxes by up to $1 per $1,000 of assessed value for the purpose of specifically funding road projects. On a $100,000 home, this would be a tax increase of up to $100 per year.
Voting “yes” on the referendum means that you support taxes being increased and using the new funds to expedite road improvements. A “no” vote means you do not support raising taxes for this purpose.
If approved, around $1.3 million in new funding will be raised each year for five years, allowing several road projects to be completed sooner. If the referendum fails, the city will continue to fund roads as we currently do.
With nearly 140 miles of road in the city of Marshfield, the issue of additional funding needs for roads will not go away with the passage or failure of this referendum. Roads will continue to be the No. 1 need for cities like Marshfield across the state and country.