I am very pleased to be able share with you, as residents, small business owners and non-profit organizations of our Town, the news that we have been able to stop the unwanted and financial harmful practice of using special assessments to fund our road improvement projects.
Better yet, we have been able to accomplish this result without the need to request a referendum for an increase in property taxes. (Please refer to the discussion of ‘Urbanization vs. Ditches and Swales’ and the discussion of ‘Road Funding’ for more information on this accomplishment.)
By far, the need to eliminate special assessments, which were unfair and discriminatory against some property owners, was the top priority of our residents. For many unfortunate property owners these unbalanced assessments were both, many times higher than their annual property tax payments, and the payments were much higher than any amount of benefit to their respective properties.
People who have provided input to me on the subject of road funding recognize that roads are perhaps our most important piece of infrastructure as a community. We all either use them or receive benefit from them. Together, we all have a role their upkeep, but our method of paying for our roads must be fair, reasonable and reflect the will of our people.
Urbanization involves the installation of water and sewer, if not present, and also the installation of curb and gutter and storm sewers.
The primary reason we have been able to eliminate special assessments without raising property taxes is not because we have chosen to neglect the condition of our roads, as some individuals would have you think, but rather it is because our Board eliminated the practice of automatically urbanizing every road that was being rebuilt. Unrestricted urbanization is extremely costly, not only in terms of initial construction cost, but also when performing roadway maintenance.
The approach of our Board has been to only urbanize those roads where urbanization is needed. This practice has numerous advantages. They include:
- Lower initial construction costs.
- Lower annual maintenance costs.
- Less downstream flooding compared with the use of storm sewers.
- Fewer chemical pollutants, such as phosphorus, entering our waterways.
- Reduced need to construct and maintain costly detention ponds.
- Reduces costly street sweeping required by the DNR for urbanized roads.
Water and Drainage
Our restored focus of promoting the use of ditches and swales for roadside drainage, rather than costly urbanization, reflects “Best Practice drainage management” as identified by University of Wisconsin and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officials. Attorney and Adjunct Professor Paul Kent of the UW System has stated, “We need to shift from relying wholly on engineered infrastructure focused on treatment and containment, to incorporating more hydrology focused practices designed to restore functions.”
This current Board will continue to emphasize cost-effective best practice drainage practices wherever ditches and swales are appropriate and can be easily maintained by property owners. This is a “win-win” approach to handling our drainage needs.
Past Practice. Something very few of us have been aware of, is that since the mid-1980’s long-term debt has played a large role in our road funding formula. Since at least 1993, approximately half of our road improvement expenses have been paid for by special assessments on a limited number of property owners, with the remainder being funded by long-term debt, which in turn is paid by all residents through our property taxes. Anyone who attempts to tell you that long-term debt has not been used to fund our roads for the past 40 years is not knowledgeable about our road funding.
Current Practice. Some individuals are stating that because we have eliminated the use of special assessments, that we will be increasing our long-term debt. This is not the case. By eliminating the practice of automatically urbanizing all roads that will be rebuilt, we have kept our annual long-term debt at its traditional level. We are simply performing road upkeep in a more cost-effective manner.
Road Quality and Sustainability
Some individuals are claiming that because our Board has eliminated special assessments for road funding without seeking a referendum to raise property taxes, that our road quality will deteriorate. What these individuals are failing to acknowledge is the cost savings have been achieved through the elimination of costly (and environmentally harmful) roadway urbanization practices.
Our staff and Town engineering firm has informed the Board that as long as we continue to perform road improvement projects as we have in the past, that we will be able to continue to maintain our roads at the same level of quality as we have been experiencing. The practice that we continue to follow, is to rebuild all roads with a pavement rating of 1-3 on a scale of 1-10 (where 10 is excellent and 1 is bad).
Road Funding Referendum
Some individuals have been calling for a road funding referendum. A question that needs to be asked is “What would be the purpose of such a referendum?”
Currently there is not a need for more money for road-funding. Why, then would there be a need for a referendum at this time?
A need for a road-funding referendum may be needed in the future if inflation continues to drive up costs, including road construction costs. At present, however, there is no need for a referendum.
Water and Sewer Ordinance
Our Board has been working on the development of a new water and sewer ordinance over this past year. We hope to implement it soon. It is based on the following principles:
- Fair and Consistent Treatment for all Property Owners. For several decades our water and sewer ordinances have not reflected equal treatment for all residents. Residents in some neighborhoods have been forced to connect to sewer and water when it is available, while in other neighborhoods, residents have not been required to connect. Our policies and practices must be the same for all.
- Respect for Property Owner Rights. Just as property owners should not be subjected to unfair and harmful special assessments, neither should they be required to connect to municipal services if they are comfortable with, and want to continue to use their own wells and septic systems. We do not want to be like big government and force unwanted services and expenses on our residents. In assessing where to extend municipal services, our Town needs to determine where such services are wanted or needed, as well as where it makes economic sense to the Town to extend such services. We should not extend services to areas where there is no economic advantage to the Town or to current property owners who are connected to municipal services, unless doing so is necessary for reasons of public health and safety.
- Existing residents should not be forced to connect to water and sewer main extensions in order to subsidize the project of a private developer. If affected residents wish to connect to new municipal services, and are willing to pay the necessary cost, they of course, can do so. However, requiring residents to subsidize a private development is inappropriate.
Flooding Caused by Development
While I, and our Board, firmly support desirable new development, it is imperative that great caution is used concerning all development projects, great or small. All can cause flooding damage to adjacent properties, and also to properties both upstream from the development and downstream from the development. As a result, in addition to having an inventory of Town wetlands, we are also in the process of mapping all Town flood plain locations. With this flood plain inventory, we will be better able to prevent flooding caused by development. Development needs to be restricted or not allowed where there are upstream or downstream flood plains.
I have worked hard to make our Town government as transparent as possible. I have implemented a new process when I appoint new committee members. I have also scheduled many workshop meetings, so the Board had an opportunity to work though the issues that our residents and small business owners face in an open meeting forum.
Development is a double-edge sword. There is a wide array of costs associated with development that need to be evaluated carefully. For example, too often, I believe Town leaders have only looked at the revenue side of the equation when approving new subdivisions. As we continue to grow as a town, more and more services become necessary, whether it be additional schools, police and fire protection, roads, Town administrative personnel, and additional infrastructure and facilities. Therefore, we need to become more deliberate and take care when planning our future growth.
With a population of more than 23,000, Grand Chute is the largest township in Wisconsin. While that is an interesting statistic, does growth for the sake of growth reflect what we, as residents, want Grand Chute to be known for, or do we also value our rural character and moderate taxes?
It is my belief that “for the sake of growth”, new development is oftentimes being funded by existing property owners. Examples of this action include:
- Roadways are being damaged and destroyed by heavy trucks and equipment utilized in the development process, but developers are not asked to pay for those damages. Residents are being required to pay for this road damage when their roads need to be reconstructed. Town officials do marginally reduce special assessment levies in some areas where roads have been damaged due to development, but the amount does not cover the true cost of the damage.
- Urbanization is being forced upon residents, especially in agricultural areas where water, sewer, storm sewer services and other municipal infrastructure is not wanted or needed. This practice serves to reduce the cost to developers who will then develop a subdivision just beyond the recently urbanized area. When new development is subsidized by special assessments made on existing adjacent property owners, developers do not have to pay the true cost of extending municipal services to their site, which saves them money. Existing residents should not be taken advantage of in this manner.
I do not think anyone enjoys paying taxes, but property tax revenues are essential in order to provide the municipal services we want and need. There needs to be a continual balancing act as it concerns needed services and property taxes. Leadership on taxes, again, begins with listening to our taxpayers. My position is that we want our property tax level to be very moderate. We must be good stewards of our resources and very deliberate with our plans.
Jason Van Eperen for Grand Chute Chairperson
Paid for by Van Eperen for Grand Chute, Dave Van Eperen, Treasurer