Yuba sets stage for road condition talks
By Bev Pestel in collaboration with Content Editor Paul Arentz
At a time of heated concern regarding the actions of the State of Wisconsin’s Joint Finance Committee’s cutting of Governor Evers budget, a Roads Forum was held at the Community Center in Yuba, Wisconsin last Saturday discussing challenges Richland County faces in repairing their roads.
Opening the discussion was Hillsboro resident Lee D. Van LanDuyt, who is part of a group of citizens that put together forums that address the needs of different communities.
Richland County Board and Roads Committee members, Jeanetta Kirkpatrick Board Chair and District 1 Supervisor, Shaun Murphy-Lopez District 2 Supervisor, and Jim Huffman District 3 Supervisor, were invited and attended the forum. The supervisors fielded people’s concerns and listened to input that may be useful addressing budget shortfalls for Richland County roads.
Kirkpatrick gave an overview of the budget, and the news was not good. There simply are not enough tax dollars coming to the county to meet the county’s needs.
Kirkpatrick noted a decrease in the budget for road maintenance, repair, and replacement, saying, “We depend on state aid, and we depend on grants.” She referred to the state aid cuts as one of the reasons for the shortfall. Kirkpatrick also stated that a substantial amount of the road budget was consumed by winter maintenance, just keeping the roads free of ice and snow resulting from this year’s long and harsh winter.
With great hesitation, the County Board voted in a Wheel Tax this year of $20 per car/truck under 8000 lbs., recognizing that state funding to address the needed road repairs simply cannot be depended upon. Kirkpatrick noted that imposing a Wheel Tax to other vehicles is not allowed by state law.
With county and township crews stretching funds as far as they can, they face the reality that only a small percentage of needed repairs are possible with the funding available. Priorities have to be set that may make no one happy.
Kirkpatrick shared that one estimate was that at current funding levels, it would take 100 years to reach all the roads just once.
So why has the Joint Finance Committee removed the 8-cent gas tax increase from the Governor’s budget? For the average driver, that amounts to about $40 a year. That is 8-cents more a gallon raised from residents filling their gas tank, but it also would be 8-cents more a gallon raised from every tourist and commercial vehicle traveling through the state. It’s not enough to solve the problem, but it is enough to begin to make a difference. Participants agreed that $40 a year is a lot less than a blown tire or an exhaust system left behind in the wake of the last pothole.
Concerns on what role the Amish use of roads has on the damage sustained each year drew conversation as well. Specifically, their use of steel wheels on their wagons, and the continued use of Carbide, better known as Drill Tech horseshoes, that improve traction and lessen wear. The shoes cause considerable damage to roads, especially rebuilt and repaired sections.
Even though Richland County passed an ordinance prohibiting their use, Richland County Board member for District 3 and Yuba President Jim Huffman, noted that the Sheriff’s department said they currently do not have the resources to enforce the ordinance.
Supervisor Murphy-Lopez stated, that in speaking with constituents, roads were the second largest concern that has been brought to his attention. No stranger to road issues, he works as an independent road consultant from his home. He stated that when working with, and talking to governments, Murphy-Lopez always stresses, “If you don’t pay now for maintenance, you will pay much more for rebuilding roads later.” Adding, “We need to be very transparent with people.”, noting that over the past ten years funding has continued to decrease. “We need to make our county an attractive place, so we can get more people to move here that will help attract additional funding from the state.”
With the retirement of the County Roads Commissioner Bill Condon this year, five county supervisors will be interviewing candidates to replace him, potentially ushering in a fresh new look at the roads and funding crisis currently facing the county.
“Hopefully we can choose someone that can lead us in dealing with these challenges, who can work with all the townships bringing them together, and take us in a good direction.”, said Murphy-Lopez. Whoever the next commissioner will be, they will have bigger challenges, like how will they bring in more revenues, become more efficient, and fiscally responsible.
“I feel public engagement is really important”, said Murphy-Lopez again stressing transparency. “Getting out and talking to folks is very important. I want to focus on what we can do, because we have a lot of challenges.”, he added.
The forum seems to have left everyone agreeing, what actions will the Wisconsin State Joint Finance Committee take to address road funding concerns in Richland County and the state as a whole. And at what point do the needs of rural Wisconsin become a priority? When can the citizens expect them to start making decisions that are truly in the best and realistic needs of the people?
Editor’s Note: As future forums are held, DriftlessNow.com will publish dates and venues as they become available.