Fulton weighs referendum to increase tax levy
The town board decided Tuesday to work toward a September referendum that would allow it to exceed its levy limits through 2014 for road repair, maintenance and construction.
Road maintenance is one of the town’s largest expenses, taking up 17 percent of its 2008 budget.
But as maintenance costs rise—from about $35,000 a mile years ago to about $120,000 a mile now, Chairman Evan Sayre estimates—state aid has decreased, Sayre said.
“The state is basically out of the helping business,” he said before Tuesday’s meeting. “They’ve just taken their transportation budget and totally gutted it.”
For 2008, the town budgeted $250,000 for roads, including $38,000 for snowplowing. That’s only enough to put a second layer of asphalt on Kidder Road from Allendale Drive to County M, a distance of about 2 miles, Town Clerk Connie Zimmerman said.
To adequately maintain Fulton’s 63 miles of roads, the town must repave 3 or 3½ miles a year at a cost of about $350,000, Sayre said. Plus, the town must reseal roads every five or six years.
Sayre’s not yet sure how much the referendum will ask for, but he thinks $350,000 above the levy limit would be an adequate number. State law limits Fulton’s levy to $513,000 in 2009 without a referendum.
On a 4-1 vote, the board approved the referendum Tuesday but did not determine its amount. It instead decided to prioritize road projects to come up with a referendum amount. That will be cleared up in the next several months, as the town’s ballot question will need to be certified by July 29 for the Sept. 9 referendum.
Until the ballot question is certified, the town still has the option of canceling the referendum, Zimmerman said.
“This is the last thing I want to do is have this referendum,” Sayre said before the meeting. “If somebody could figure out how to finance and figure out these things without doing it, I’d jump on it.”
Sayre believes residents will see the need for the additional money. If the town doesn’t keep up with maintenance, road quality will quickly deteriorate, dragging down home values, he said.
“What’s going to happen is your roads are going to get older and older and older,” he said. “Down the line, five years from now, 10 years from now, you’re going to have 15 miles that need to be done, and you’re going to have a referendum for millions.”
But Brian Christianson, a Fulton Town Board member, believes the town can use its cash reserves of more than $400,000 to start addressing road maintenance.
Christianson was the lone member to vote against the September referendum. He said he wasn’t opposed to the referendum but didn’t like its timing. He wants it included in the April elections so candidates for town board will be forced to express their opinions on it.
But Sayre says there’s no time to figure out the wording of the referendum, including the amount of money to ask for, before the Feb. 10 deadline to put a referendum on the ballot.
“We haven’t got all the facts and figures,” he said. “If we’re going to do it, we’ve got to do it right.”