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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Mayor Urges "Yes" Vote On Peshtigo Referendum

Issue Date: March 10, 2021

"I get more phone calls from citizens complaining about the condition of streets in this city than on any other issue," Peshtigo Mayor Cathi Malke declared as she explained why she hopes voters on Tuesday, April 6 will approve a referendum allowing the city property tax levy to exceed state-imposed limits by $200,000 per year.

At today's rates, owners of a property assessed at $100,000 would pay an additional $124 per year to drive on streets with fewer problems, mainly fewer pot holes, sink holes, flooding and crumbling pavement.

Malke explained with the current road construction budget of approximately $100,000, it often takes three years to save for a single road improvement project. The city has a list of 36 major projects that need doing, and streets are on 42-year rotation schedule before they can be re-done.

Malke added that in recent years there have been an increasing number of problems with "sink holes," which are generally caused by old ceramic pipes collapsing. "This creates dangerous conditions for motor vehicles, bicycles and even pedestrians," Malke said, adding those collapses caused storm sewer overflows in many areas, and those overflows brought repair orders from the DNR.

Malke said in one area on Noquebay Ave. the pavement has been heaved up nearly a foot by a storm sewer pipe forcing its way to the surface. This is dangerous for motorists and their vehicles, as well as for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Malke added that often replacing the faulty storm sewer pipes requires digging up the old road and then completely reconstructing it, in addition to replacing the underground lines. The water and sewer utility pays for water and sanitary sewer replacements, but the city pays for storm sewers. In either case, when the underground utilities are replaced, the city pays to have the streets above them either resurfaced or re-constructed.

"At the approximately $100,000 per year we are currently able to budget for road repair projects, we not only will never be able to get caught up, we will just keep falling father and farther behind. I really, really hope the Peshtigo voters will approve the money we need to keep up with the needed repairs," Malke repeated.

Public Works Director George Cowell said his annual budget usually includes about $118,000 for road reconstruction plus $110,000 for maintenance, such as surface treatments, chip seal, crack sealing, patching, etc. to help prolong life of the road. He said if they are allowed to spend more for improvements now costs for future maintenance will be reduced.

Cowell added that crack sealing can also help prolong life of a road, and his department just got its own crack sealing machine last fall and will use it this spring. Generally it is used as part of the maintenance on better roads to prevent moisture from getting into the base and causing further damage.

Cowell said some of the more recent reconstruct projects have been in older neighborhoods with curb and gutter, which are generally more expensive. They need to replace the old base and parts of the drainage system, and then finish with new asphalt surface and curbing, including driveway approaches. Because of the cost, they usually are able to do only about one reconstruct every three years or so.

The major project planned for this summer, with an estimated price tag of $413,000, is reconstruction of West Park Drive from North Emery Ave. to Aubin Street, complete with 5-foot paved shoulders on each side for safe bicycle and pedestrian traffic in the neighborhood of Badger Park and the school. With support from Peshtigo School District the city had applied at least twice for grants to help pay for this project, but neither application was successful.

This project alone uses the total reconstruction budget for approximately four years at the current rate.

If the referendum is approved, projects for future years will be recommended by the Streets and Drainage Committee, with input from Cowell, and City Council will then authorize specific projects based on need and coordination with funds available for related utility replacements.

Without referendum approval, maximum tax levy for city purposes will be approximately $814,395, and with it, the total levy could be $1,014, 395.

"We've come to a turning point where we need to start getting caught up on our roads," Malke had declared at a Streets and Drainage Committee meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 30. She said the needed work on city streets could not be done within the current levy limits, and asked the committee to let electors decide at an advisory referendum in conjunction with the Spring elections in April if they were willing to pay more to have better streets.

The committee agreed, and the full City Council approved the advisory referendum at its January meeting.

The advisory referendum question states: "Under state law, the increase in the levy of the City of Peshtigo for the tax to be imposed for the next fiscal year, 2022, is limited to an estimated .959%, which results in a levy of $814,395," and then asks if the allowable levy can be increased by $200,000, which would result in a levy of approximately $1,014,395 for 2022, and, ""on an ongoing basis, include the increase of $200,000 for each fiscal year going forward?"

The levy limit referendum is one of a number of major decisions to be settled by City of Peshtigo voters at the polls on Tuesday, April 6. Others are contests for a number of local offices and a referendum for Peshtigo School improvements.

If the city's levy-limit referendum is approved the city levy on a property valued at $100,000 will be allowed to increase by approximately $124 over whatever would otherwise be allowed for next year, and comparable amounts each year thereafter. Over the years, as property values in the city go up, the levy on each property required to reach the $200,000 limit would go down.


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