Rapids council hears from public on transportation utility
By Kris Leonhardt
WISCONSIN RAPIDS – On Sept. 21, local residents and business owners were able to provide feedback on a proposed ordinance that would discontinue the use of special assessments and create a city transportation utility to provide for local road funding.
Transportation utility fees raise revenue through the creation of a utility, which is similar to a public electric or water utility. The utility charges fees based on a customer’s use.
With the transportation utility, residents, businesses, and public entities would pay a fee based on the amount of traffic generated on their property.
During a public hearing held in the city council chambers, city alders listened to feedback both for and against the ordinance.
Lee Chipman, of Bancroft, who owns three businesses in Wisconsin Rapids was one of about a dozen people to speak against the new utility creation.
“What’s really sad to me is it seems like Wisconsin Rapids is anti-small business and that’s what it’s going to hurt.
“From the street down to the bridge there’s eight empty buildings sitting. I’m not happy with that; I don’t know if you guys are happy with that. That’s on you guys; you keep discouraging small businesses (to) thrive, and I don’t think you guys understand what a small profit margin there is in small businesses,” he said.
“I have three that I still couldn’t make a living at, but I do that because Wisconsin Rapids means a lot to me and it’s hard to believe after two years of (the) pandemic and stuff like this, and we’re not back to 2019 yet – we’re still not back to 2019’s income yet – and I don’t think we’ll ever get back there; maybe not.
“And, now you need to increase taxes on us, and I haven’t seen any numbers yet.
“Maybe I’m overreacting in life but the way it looks like the small business are going to be carrying the brunt of this tax increase.”
Chipman added that last year he paid $8,000 in special assessments for improvements on a city business property.
“When they did the road there, I knew that with that it was part of being with Wisconsin Rapids. I saved to pay that much; that was part of living in Wisconsin Rapids. When they fixed your road you had to pay but you were done for another 20-25 years,” he added.
Holly Pastori was one of just a couple of residents to speak for the utility.
“I do have to speak on behalf, as you know, of the homeowners. I am on 18th avenue; I’m part of an alliance of 72 homes where we are now subject to the 18th Avenue project where our street is being dug up. And, people back in March 2019, no 2012, were delivered the special assessment bills, the estimate of which so far I’ve heard none less than $10,000 minus $10-12,000,” she said.
“Like the businesses, we were all impacted by 2020; it was an awful year. We have had job loss, physical suffering, hours cut, and we cannot afford this, you know in our way, either.
“It’s hard on the small businesses; it’s hard on the churches with schools; but, we have to protect the individuals.
“You talk about, or people have talked about, people on fixed incomes; there are widows on my street who also are on fixed incomes and they can’t cough up this $10,000. There is one person who is on the corner of Chase Street which had the work that was explained done and is on the corner of Chase and 18th and so that person’s bill is $20-22,000, due to special assessments; that’s more punishing than $9 a month, let me tell you.
“So, I encourage you to continue your pursuit of a fair and equitable solution.”
In a recent presentation, Mayor Shane Blaser explained the need for new road funding to be explored.
“With the current program, funds are from property owners who directly benefit from street improvements. This revenue is used to offset street construction and maintenance costs; however, with current budget amounts, a street built in 2020 may not be rebuilt until 2170, while over 100 years past its useful life,” Blaser.
“Current revenues generate $350,000 for street related items. With the street replacement and maintenance programs at $1.5 million and $800,000 respectively, while $2.3 million in road construction and maintenance budget is considerable. The impact of those funds will only cover 30 percent of a sustainable program.”
Therefore, Blaser said that a new alternative needed to be explored.
The proposed utility ordinance was approved earlier this fall by the city’s public works committee.
Blaser said that information on fee schedules will be released regarding each property type under the proposed transportation utility before a final vote is made by the council. The council will next discuss the matter in October.
For more information on the transportation utility, visit www.wirapids.org/special-assessment-alternatives.html.