Finance Committee sends transportation utility ordinance to Common Council – Tomahawk Leader

By Jalen Maki

Tomahawk Leader Editor

TOMAHAWK – The City of Tomahawk Common Council is slated to consider an ordinance that would implement a transportation utility in the City of Tomahawk.

The City’s Finance Committee reviewed the ordinance during its meeting on Wednesday, March 30 before voting to forward it to the council.

Ruekert & Mielke, Inc., a firm that assists municipalities with infrastructure needs, has been working with the City on potentially implementing a transportation utility since last September.

In an op-ed published in the Tomahawk Leader in Jan. 2022, the firm explained that a transportation utility is a “municipal utility, like water and sewer, used to fund transportation-related needs, including capital, operation, and maintenance costs.”

“This utility would help pay for street repairs and reconstruction, as well as sidewalks,” the firm stated, adding that the utility would  apply to all properties within the City.

Revenue generated by the transportation utility could only be used for related administration costs, including billing, collection, utility updates, review of fee structure, internal staff or external consultant costs; pavement preservation activities, such as grind/inlay, patch, slurry seal, crack seal, chip seal, or other “generally accepted means of maintenance”; street construction and/or reconstruction activities on city streets, “except as provided in 86.31 of the City Code, sidewalk maintenance, construction, or reconstruction”; street lighting and appurtenance; traffic control and signalization maintenance, construction or reconstruction; pedestrian and bicycle facilities; and structures used for the storage, maintenance, and repair of operational equipment, according to the ordinance.

Ruekert & Mielke previously estimated that the city would seek to generate $500,000.00 per year via a transportation utility fee, which is a “user-based charge designed to help fund the City’s transportation needs.”

“This would be billed out quarterly, similar to the City’s water and sewer bills,” the firm stated.

The firm said the fee would be divided into two parts. The smaller “base fee” would be used to pay the cost of running the utility and would be divided evenly among customers, while the larger “usage fee” would be administered “in proportion to how much the property benefits from the transportation infrastructure the City has.”

“All developed properties would pay a usage fee based on their estimated trip generation,” the firm stated. “A property that generates many trips, like a gas station or fast food restaurant, would pay a larger usage fee than one that sees fewer daily average trips, like a church or a bar.”

Ruekert & Mielke estimated that the monthly charge for a single-family residence would be about $5.50, with the base fee estimated to be $0.30, and the usage fee estimated to be $5.20.

Following its impending introduction at the city council level, a public hearing regarding the ordinance will be held before the council takes it up again.

On its current timeline, the ordinance would take effect on July 1.

Transportation utility follows unsuccessful attempts to implement PRAT

The potential implementation of a transportation utility is the latest avenue to generate infrastructure funding the City has considered in recent years.

Prior to the consideration of a transportation utility, multiple attempts by the City and legislators to implement a Premier Resort Area Tax (PRAT) ultimately proved unsuccessful.

Despite local support, the Wisconsin State Legislature has not given the necessary final stamp of approval to put a PRAT in place.

In 2018, an advisory referendum regarding the implementation of a PRAT was supported by 69% of City of Tomahawk voters.

The following year, then-35th Assembly District Representative and current 12th Senate District seat holder Mary Felzkowski (R-Tomahawk) and several other lawmakers introduced legislation that would have authorized the City of Tomahawk, the Town of Minocqua and the City of Sturgeon Bay to become premier resort areas, ultimately allowing the municipalities to implement a 0.5% PRAT. The bill died in committee due to leadership choosing not to move it forward.

“We have a whole segment (of legislators) that hate PRATs,” Felzkowski said after the bill stalled.

Legislation introduced concurrently by then-State Senator and current U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany (R-Wis.) also died in committee.

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