Newcounty highwayshop will cost $58M
By Kevin O’Brien
Moving the Marathon County Highway Department shop to a new standalone location would be about $32 million cheaper than combining the facility with other county departments at a campus setting, according to estimates from county officials.
County admini s trat or Lance Leonhard shared financial projections for the proposed relocation with the Infrastructure Committee on April 6, outlining the longterm implications on the county’s debt obligations and future tax rates.
“I want to be really clear: these are projections,” he told the committee. “You aren’t going to know the real cost until you put it out for bid.”
Building a new Highway Department shop is estimated to cost about $58 million by itself, compared to a $90 million price tag for a site that would also include Parks and Forestry and Emergency Services. Leonard said a Highway-only site would require 18 to 20 acres, while a shared location would need 35 to 40 acres to fit all of the facilities.
Leonhard said the difference in cost between a Highwayonly relocation and a multi-department facility suggests that county supervisors should take “a second look” at whether only moving the Highway shop is “the better course of action.”
Relocating the Highway Department’s shop off of West Street in Wausau has long been a goal of the county, but it re- cently took on more importance after the county board approved a Westside Master Plan that calls for redeveloping Marathon Park and the area around it. The current shop is located in an area that may one day be home to a new indoor ice arena.
County officials have previously identifi ed several possible sites for a new shop, including one in the town of Stettin that fell through, but no land deal has been reached at this point.
In the meantime, Leonard said he wants county supervisors to consider the financial impacts of having to borrow millions of dollars for the project, especially when the county has other capital investments it wants to make.
When it comes to the impact on taxes, he said the county’s goal should be to keep its overall debt obligations as steady as possible over time to prevent big dips and spikes in the levy. Essentially, as more debt gets paid off, the county can feel freer to schedule construction projects that will require new bonding obligations.
The projections presented by Leonhard assume that the county would have to fund the entire shop relocation itself, without any outside funding sources. However, he noted that he recently requested $55 million in congressionally directed federal spending for the project, emphasizing the county’s role in maintaining several major highways.
If the county were to issue debt in 2025 for a new Highway-only facility, the projections show a $29.35 tax increase on a $100,000 home for 2026. That hike would decrease slightly, to $28.79, if the debt were issued in 2027 instead. However, if the county were to take out debt for a multi-department site, the tax increases for a $100,000 home would be between $44.67 and $45.50. These numbers are based on a 4 percent annual growth rate in property values and an interest rate ranging from 4.15 to 4.85 percent.
One of the biggest factors affecting the county’s longterm debt is when, and if, North Central Health Care can take on the yearly debt payments for a recent remodeling of the facility. Right now, NCHC is set to start fully paying the annual debt amounts in 2028.
“If they can’t service that, that is absolutely going to be a significant obligation for the county,” Leonhard said. However, he anticipates that NCHC will be able to service its debt in the future.
Looking ahead, Leonhard said the county has several other projects it is looking at completing, such as the Westside Master Plan, a proposed regional morgue and remodeling the courthouse and jail. However, he said the county also has opportunities to consolidate its facilities and divest from properties it no longer needs, such as those on River Drive.
Supervisor John Robinson said the county board needs to consider the Highway shop relocation in light of its other longterm plans.
“We need to look at this in the context of what the other needs are and where the other borrowing might be, because that will have an impact,” he said. “We’ll have to try to set some priorities as we go forward because this isn’t the only project we have in the planning stage.”
Editor’s note: This article was originally designed to run in an earlier edition, but due to space constraints, its publication was delayed until now.