Bayfield County residents are ready to pay higher taxes to support a highway-rebuilding plan, but that isn’t their highest spending priority.
Nearly 300 county residents weighed in on a county survey that sought opinions on three different highway reconstruction proposals. They were asked if the county should reconstruct six miles of highway per year at a cost of $1 million in additional taxes through 2020, reconstruct 8.6 miles annually to the tune of $1.65 million or reconstruct highways without adding to the tax burden.
The money would be borrowed on a year-to-year basis. County Administrator Mark Abeles-Allison estimated the first option would increase a $100,000 home’s property tax bill by $37, and the second by $63.
Abeles-Allison walked county supervisors through the results of the survey during a budget-planning session this week.
Sixty-four percent of the 296 respondents, who represent about 1.5% of the county’s population, favored either the 6-mile or the 8.6-mile proposal.
That breaks down to 111 residents, or 38 percent of respondents, tipping in favor of reconstructing 8.6 miles, and 78, or 26%, pushing for the six-mile plan.
On the other hand, 107 people, representing 36 % of respondents, wanted the county to adopt a highway plan that didn’t raise taxes.
The survey said 11 county supervisors responded to the survey, although Chairman Dennis Pocernich said he may have voted twice inadvertently. All of the supervisors who took the survey called for either the six-mile or 8.6-mile plan.
Abeles-Allison said some residents commented in the survey that the county should work within its budget and they didn’t want any more taxes.
But the County Board members present seemed to agree with Supervisor Larry Fickbohm, who called for the 8.6-mile highway reconstruction plan to catch up with updating the roads to reduce future maintenance costs.
“We’re obviously falling behind when we look at the roads,” Fickbohm said.
When it came to ranking budget priorities, the public diverged from the county supervisors.
Public respondents considered protecting natural resources — particularly groundwater and surface water — their main concern. But highway maintenance topped the supervisors’ list.
Highway infrastructure placed second for residents, so it wasn’t too far from their minds.
Although supervisors thought maintaining and improving services for seniors and the nursing home should be their second priority, residents ranked it No. 7.
The public doesn’t seem to realize the stake the county has in the nursing home, Pocernich said.
The survey will soon be available on the Bayfield County website for the public to review.
The supervisors also briefly discussed whether to levy to the maximum allowed by state law at the budget planning meeting.
“We don’t want to fall behind,” Pocernich said as he advised levying the full amount, and many supervisors nodded in agreement.
At its regular board meeting Tuesday, supervisors approved spending an additional $1.5 million on reconstructing a portion of Highway A this year.
The Highway Department originally planned to reconstruct four miles between Fay and Hessey roads north of Iron River in 2019. But to complete the entire section of road the department wanted to tackle meant tacking on another six miles.
The road is just falling apart, said Paul Johanik, Bayfield County highway commissioner, and the county will save money by reconstructing the entire stretch all at once.
Johanik said the Highway Department now plans to reconstruct 9.9 miles between Fay Road and Highway B beginning in July. There will be no detours.
The Highway Department fund is kicking in $500,000 for the project, and $1 million will come out of the general fund.