Oneida County asking voters to approve tax levy increase for road funding
By Katie Thorsen
As we quickly approach pothole season, many drivers will be paying closer attention to road conditions. The Oneida County Highway Department says it doesn’t get enough funding to keep pace with road repairs.
The Oneida County Highway Department has 172 miles of county highway it needs to reconstruct every 20 years. That comes out to about 8.6 miles of road each year. And over the years the cost to repair them has gone up.
In 2005, it cost about $76,000 to repair one mile. In 2014, that cost rose to $180,000 a mile. Now, the county needs $200,000 to reconstruct just one mile. If the department wants to keep pace with its 8.6 miles a year, it will need more than $1.6 million in funding.
In 2021, funding for the department was less than $1.4 million, according to Highway Committee Chairman Ted Cushing.
“The levy freezes that have been in place for the 15 or 18 years that I’ve been on the board don’t allow us to increase the levy to account for getting extra money to get this road pavement and reconstruction taken care of,” said Cushing.
One referendum question asks Oneida County voters to increase the tax levy by $500,000 for the next 10 years. That would mean a tax increase of about $6.50 for $100,000 of assessed value. Cushing says that a component of Governor Evers’ budget could help with the highway department’s budget shortfall.
It would give local governments the ability to increase local sales tax by up to 1%. The county would be able to put half that increase toward specific projects like road funding, but it’s unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled legislature.
“If that were the case we wouldn’t be asking for the referendum. They were told by the Republicans, and I don’t want to get political, but they were told that that’s DOA when it comes to the budget hearings in Madison, dead on arrival, that’ll never happened,” said Cushing.
The other question is an advisory referendum, meaning it doesn’t require the County Board to take action. If that one is approved, it would advise the board to cut $500,000 of county programs and shift it to the highway department.
“We have done studies at the county on various programs, and they’ve been ranked, but we don’t have a specific answer for you on what services would be cut,” said Cushing.
These questions will appear on the ballot for the April 6 election.