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November 19, 2017

11/14/2017 7:28:00 AM
Boulder Jct. budget meeting - biggest tax increase proposal in its history

To the Editor:

It is with great respect for the town and taxpayers of Boulder Junction that I am asking everyone to attend the budget hearing/electors meeting on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017 starting at 6 p.m. It is important that we ask questions to gain a full understanding of what is being presented to us on the 16th. As someone much smarter than me once said, "Democracy dies in the dark."

The town's notice says:

1. To approve a $5 million road plan

2. To pass the town's tax levy payable in 2018

One question would be "Is our town government ready to manage responsibly, with accountability, expertise and transparency, $5 million for roads?" No one likes to talk about this issue because it's embarrassing - and nobody wants to embarrass anybody - but decisions need to be made based on facts. Now is the time to pose the difficult questions.

And the fact is there are still charges pending against our town board with the Vilas County District Attorney and investigations by the sheriff. Why is this relevant, you ask? It's relevant because most of charges pending pertain to money. The point is that the charges/investigations are still pending. Shouldn't we wait until those legal problems are adjudicated since most of them pertain to handling of taxpayers' money? If this is a great road plan this November, why wouldn't it still be a great road plan next November? What's the rush?

Because ... as we know from the $8,700 payout, once money leaves the town accounts that money is very hard to get back. The $8,700 still has not been recovered and it's been over a year since it disappeared. The $8,700 payment was an ACH transfer with only one person approving the amount - the clerk. And it was paid to the clerk.

Do we have better safeguards in place now? We need answers even to the difficult questions. Especially to the difficult questions. It's a cautionary tale.

And why don't area comparable towns manage their road repairs by borrowing millions of dollars? Instead, they seem to just raise their levy when needed and reassess each year. Interest is a costly item; perhaps that's why. Borrowing is a fine choice when it's necessary, but is it truly necessary for a road repair program? In our case, the interest will be an additional $1.75 million on top of the $5 million. Maybe other towns think that $1.75 million would be better used on road work instead of paying a bank or a bond company. I don't know. I'm asking why.

We've been taxed for road repairs every year over the past six years, yet road work has only been done two years. Where is that unused money? And why isn't the road work being done every year?

This past year, our new roads committee had a goal of doing X amount of road work and, for the first time ever, paid an engineer to help.

Even with the engineer's help (the same engineer that will cost $161,450 out of the $5 million plan), this year's road work did not get completed as planned. That was about three miles of roads. Do we have any assurance, then, that 60 miles of road work will be completed in two years? Can they guarantee the 60 miles in two years? That is, after all, the crux of the $5 million plan. What if they don't get it done? We have some questions.

Whether the 60 miles of road are finished within two years or not, will the taxpayers still be on the hook for $6.75 million of new taxes (that's $1.75 million in interest)? Will we be obligated to pay that increased tax bill every year for 20 years whether six or 60 roads get repaired?

Furthermore, the board doesn't have to guarantee that 100 percent of the $5 million will be used for roads. Or do they? That's an important question.

Past practice tells us the board can use any of the money in that roads budget for something other than roads by simply drafting a budget amendment. (Budget amendments only need approval by the board.) Have they ever taken money out of the roads account for some other purpose before? We need these answers.

Also, there are sizeable increases in the town clerk-treasurer's budget. A 36 percent increase is being asked for in the deputy clerk budget in spite of the town board and clerk-treasurer analysis committee showing that this category of spending is already way out of control. Will throwing more money again at this line item solve the problem? And if it doesn't, will we be asked for more money next year, too? How much does it take?

Furthermore, there is an additional request for a double digit salary increase with no agenda or minutes to be found as to when this was discussed by the town board. Why the inflated percentage increase? We need information so we can make sound decisions.

The 2018 budget shows there are at least two budget lines that have a zero balance. This is highly unusual. Where is that money going and why? Were the people notified of this discussion?

And is that why this budget is below our levy limit? If not, then why is it? At first glance, it looks to be a good thing, but the devil is in the details, as they say. We just need an explanation before voting.

Finally, is our local government fiscally ready to manage an additional $6.75 million in its budget? That is a very big jump in money management skills.

Looking forward to a big turnout at the Nov. 16 budget hearing/electors meeting beginning at 6 p.m. This is the largest tax increase question ever in Boulder Junction's history. Our town taxes have been rising rapidly the past several years. Let's proceed cautiously.

Boulder Junction needs answers to all these questions so that we can make informed, responsible decisions. The future generations of Boulder Junction are counting on us.

Let's grab our spouses, friends and neighbors, attend the meeting and make grassroots democracy work for the people of Boulder Junction. See you Thursday night at 6 p.m. at the community center. Let's help turn on the lights.

Barbara Boston

and Jeff Long

Boulder Junction

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