The Portage Common Council unanimously voted Thursday night to have Portage join a chorus of municipalities calling for state officials to prioritize investment in infrastructure.
The resolution, joining with the #JustFixIt campaign, organized by the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, called out state authorities for putting local governments in a financial bind. Gas tax rates have essentially been flat in Wisconsin over the past decade and, the resolution argued, with local levy limits imposed on local governments by the state, residents are left to watch streets erode with limited resources to address the problem at a local level.
City Administrator Shawn Murphy explained that by approving the resolution, the Portage Common Council would be joining with 420 other members representing 40 to 50 towns, counties and cities, by his last check of the organization’s tally.
“We’ve only just started, but we probably have a couple dozen communities that have passed the resolution,” said League of Wisconsin Municipalities Executive Director Jerry Deschane. “We’re really hoping to have them in by September, so we hope to be ramping up by then. I can tell you anecdotally, there is a lot of interest in it.”
As of July 2015, the U.S. Department of Transportation rated 71 percent of Wisconsin’s roads in poor or mediocre condition and 14 percent of the state’s bridges structurally deficient or functionally obsolete at an annual relative cost of $281 per motorist in vehicle operating costs and repairs.
“It’s nearly universal that towns and villages are going to focus on the urgent —the police and fire protection and things like that — and long-term capital projects are the things that you’re going to delay first,” said Deschane. “And the road system is right there, but we can’t delay it anymore. We’re going to start paying through the nose for repairs.”
This resolution was one point amid a subtle theme within the meeting reinforcing the value of investment in public transportation.
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The following order of new business was re-allocating $113,500 from the general fund to mass transit to reimburse overpayment of the grant that subsidizes Portage taxi services.
Over time an increase in the demand for those grant funds elsewhere and a reduction in funding for that grant has led to gradual tightening, Murphy explained, with cuts such as discontinuation of the Madison shuttle and reduced service area.
However, between 2008 and 2015 Portage was the beneficiary of a clerical oversight totaling over $100,000. The annual cost of the program for the city is a small portion, compared to a total $1 million expense to keep the 24-hour service running.
“Are you saying it’s about $25,000 to $30,000 to keep it running?” asked Alderman Bill Kutzke.
“Our share is about $35,000,” Murphy said of the $1.1 million service, saying that the share provided by grant support has reduced from 65 percent to 48 percent. “We are still getting a very good deal for the service we are providing.”
To clarify where the issue came from in the first place Alderman Jeffrey Monfort asked, “They made a mistake?”
“We applied and they didn’t have the staff to say ‘these costs aren’t covered,” said Murphy. But then auditors got around to giving it a look over and found that Portage had still been getting the same funding for the same application that included subsidies that had since been phased out.
Alderman Mark Hahn moved to have the requested funds moved from the general fund to the mass transit fund and, with the exception of Dennis Nachreiner and Mary Hamburg, who had been excused in the initial roll call, the motion passed with full support.