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County looks at highway borrowing

With interest rates low, Taylor County is looking at borrowing money to play catch-up on some county road projects.

At Tuesday’s highway commission meeting, members discussed a proposed 2021 highway department budget. In keeping with past practice commissioner Ben Stanfley presented a budget with a 0% levy increase for a total highway levy of $2,884,600.

However, the budget also included a projected $1.75 million in borrowing to secure funds for the CTH O project scheduled for 2022 and the CTH A and CTH T project scheduled for 2021.

According to Stanfley, the last time CTH A and T were worked on was in 1984, noting they were long overdue for work. The CTH O project is in partnership with the state and includes a $650,000 county match for the portion between Hwy 13 and Gibson Dr. and $175,000 county match for the section between Gibson Dr. and CTH Q.

Stanfley estimated the county is about three years behind on its road projects and that the borrowing would allow them to get caught up for several years in the future.

Commission member Rod Adams questioned that with the state projecting decreases in gas tax collections, if this was the time to be considering larger projects. “Which project would we eliminate if we have to eliminate one?” he asked.

Commission chairman Scott Mildbrand noted the county has authorized spending a significant amount of money this year with the purchase of a house for a released inmate (the state is leasing the house for the offender to live in), the broadband project and with word received that two of the county’s three dam projects did not qualify for grants. He also noted that something needed to happen with the Rib Lake shop building. “I would vote against borrowing,” Mildbrand said.

County finance director Larry Brandl disagreed projecting that with the county retiring a significant amount of existing debt in the next two years that the county could bond for the funds needs and would have little or no impact to the tax levy. “Borrowing rates are really, really good,” Brandl said, noting that by 2022 the county will be debt free. He said he would rather see the tax levy remain steady then to have it dip down for a year or two only to have it go back up due to needing to borrow for projects in the future.

“We can keep the [tax] rate and levy fairly flat depending on what our needs are,” he said.

Mildbrand said he did not want to get into a situation where taxpayers would be faced with a large increase, he noted that having a levy increase of between 2% and 4% were understandable as simply the cost of continuing county functions.

“A certain amount of debt isn’t a bad thing,” Brandl said, noting the major projects that could be accomplished with it and being careful to keep the payback over a relatively short period of time.

“We have a lot of moving parts in the budget,” Brandl said, adding that he thought it was not possible to wait for some of these projects.

Rather than going to a vote, commission members tabled the budget until the July meeting in order to give Brandl time to research the impact of borrowing on the projected levy over the next few years.

In other business, commission members:

_ Referred a $1,588.63 property damage claim to the county’s attorney to pursue in small claims court. The bill is from an accident on CTH D in the town of Westboro that damaged a section of guardrail. When the county attempted to pursue payment through the insurance company listed on the accident report, Stanfl ey said they were told that no policy existed under that name. Commission members discussed the need for a uniform policy for what level the county would either write-off the unrecovered amount or seek legal means of recovering it.

_ Approved allowing committee members and staff to attend the Wisconsin County Highway Association (WCHA) Summer Road School in Wisconsin Dells on Aug. 10-12 if they felt it was worthwhile to attend. The decision came after a lengthy discussion about the potential risk of sending people outside the area to large gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the cost versus value of attending these conferences. Commission member Ray Soper noted that similar state and regional meetings for other departments have switched to online seminars, which he noted saved the county significantly in regard to transportation costs and time. Others noted there can be value in speaking to vendors and other officials.

_ Approved bridge aid requests from the town of Goodrich for two culverts at Lemke Dr., the town of Maplehurst for Karow Dr. and the town of Westboro for Lucia Rd. and Fawn Ave. Under the bridge aid program, the town pays half the cost of the culvert and bridge projects with the remaining half paid by the county through a special levy on all participating communities.