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Roads, revenue, discussed at Mercer annual meeting


June 26, 2020


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MERCER, Wis. — After reports of progress and accomplishments were conveyed, the annual meeting of the town of Mercer Board of Supervisors on Tuesday reintroduced a tourist-driven tax idea to fund road paving and repair costs.

The annual public meeting is scheduled for April but was delayed 60 days because of the COVID-19 shutdown order in place at the time. Around 25 electors were in attendance, including the five town board members, to discuss any issue raised in which the town has statutory authority.

“I hope everybody sees that our town is going forward in the right direction,” said John Sendra, town board chair. “We are doing a lot of improvements over the last couple of years and there will be more coming.”

Doug Shackelton, resident and chair of the Mercer Lake Association fireworks committee, was present to thank the board for addressing the concerns of the group’s 18-month effort to address what it called a fireworks problem in the area.

“We’re here tonight to say thank you to the board for adopting the new fireworks ordinance,” Shackleton said. “We are very pleased that you followed up on this and we think that it will help.”

Some highlights of Sendra’s report included mention of the city’s purchase of a new ambulance, fire truck and plow in the past year. He also mentioned outdoor basketball courts and softball field improvements, a new floor in the pavilion and completion of several grant-funded road projects, lakeshore boat landing improvements and a boat landing maintenance agreement with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Jerry Hoffmaster, the recently appointed town transfer station manager, was credited with reorganizing the station and arranging for bulk waste containers for residents.

He was also credited with initiating a sticker program for local garbage pickup that allows residents and the city to save money by purchasing their own bags.

Vic Ouimette, a town supervisor, said road projects will be spread thin as the increasing costs of “hot mix” aggregate and asphalt cement is estimated at $130,000 to $160,000 per mile.

“If we didn’t do the prep work it would be even higher,” Ouimette said. “That cost severely limits what we are able to go ahead and do each year.”

Ouimette said he would like to reintroduce the Premier Resort Area Tax (PRAT) proposal to the voters. The 0.5% sales tax is designed to help tourism-dependent areas afford infrastructure projects. Voters rejected the plan in recent years, he said.

“Nobody likes to hear the term, ‘a tax,’” he said. “But if we’re going to keep our roads up to snuff, that money can only come from basically two places: the taxpayers who own property here and of course, if we are going to increase the number of roads that we want to pave and service that’s going to mean at some place down the road that we either have poorer roads or we have to raise the tax to do it.”

Sendra, who also supports PRAT, said the advantage is that the majority of purchases that fuel the tax are made by non-resident tourists who enjoy area lodging, restaurants and outdoor recreation. The Mercer economy is 65% tourism and 35% local expenditures, he said.

There was similar resistance to establish the room (lodging) tax for the same reasons. The fund has since grown from $30,000 annually to more than $100,000, he said.

Eric Snow, town supervisor, said he would like to see a comparison of PRAT and the local property tax in terms of tax burden and benefit to permanent residents, part year residents and visitors. In the meantime, he said the town could repair the roads it has without paving dirt roads to cut costs.

Hank Joustra, resident, encouraged a little more time and effort into the whole idea of the extra tax, what it will be used for and the costs are.

It’s a huge thing for a community effort to build support versus allowing the tax question to come up quickly without enough time to address the questions and doubts, he said.

Peter Wetzler, resident, said the tourism data and the estimated percentages of expenditures of locals and visitors are known numbers. If the estimated revenues and the cost per mile to repair or pave a road are known then it would help at public hearings and events.

“Perhaps a different way of asking the question is how many miles of road would be estimated to be paid for with the PRAT tax versus a certain percentage increase of property tax,” Wetzler said.

The board scheduled the next annual annual board meeting for 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 21, 2021 at the Mercer Community Center. The meeting is usually scheduled for the third Tuesday of April but that is the same night as the Iron County annual meeting.


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