Kelley gave a presentation of the past and current winter maintenance fund balances. The committee discussed the various fund transfers that were made since 2005 to fund winter maintenance and how the vehicle registration fee came to be adopted in Chippewa County. Money transferred from other county funds was never meant to be repaid at a later date. Kelley also showed a presentation that staff gave to the County Board in August 2014 prior to authorization of the vehicle registration fee. Continuing to transfer funds from the general fund and other funds is not a sustainable approach. Borrowing/bonding should not be used for routine maintenance short falls, but for road construction. The Executive Committee said in 2014 that cutting the level of winter maintenance is not viable due to safety and economic needs. There have been a number of governmental efficiencies implemented to save costs already. The winter maintenance fund balance deficit has significantly decreased, however the past two mild winters were below average and future severe winters would likely increase the deficit again.
Pascarella discussed some issues with using additional tax levy. He stated that the highway department is the only department in the county that receives an annual increase in tax levy. This is increased by $50,000 each year to help offset increases in material costs. The county only has about $800,000 of levy available for use before reaching the state-imposed levy limit. Exceeding the levy limit would require a voter referendum.
Pascarella would like the highway committee to provide direction at the June 29th meeting on what information staff should bring forward in July. Any changes to the County’s vehicle registration fee need to be sent to the state at least 90 days prior to implementation. Changes necessary for 2017 should be brought to the County Board in August.
Melissa Roach, Finance Director, stated that a levy increase would be a permanent increase to property taxes vs. the vehicle registration fee ending in 2020. She also stated that initially her office had a lot of complaints from the public on the fee, but the phone calls have since decreased significantly.
Sikorski explained that the vehicle registration fee was debated at length by the past committee. It was a difficult decision, but was necessary to address the insufficient funding of winter maintenance. Sikorski stated that this is a subject that will be discussed further at the next committee meeting.
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