Gibraltar residents approved the town budget Monday after 90 minutes of questions and comments during an annual meeting held through a combination of Zoom and in-person attendance.
Voters approved a 13 percent tax hike over this year’s budget and approved allowing the town to exceed the state-imposed levy limit by 20.66 percent. The levy increase amounts to an annual property-tax increase of $35 per $100,000 of property value.
State law requires town budgets be approved by a vote of the town electors in person, so after the discussion period ended, many residents who attended the meeting by Zoom hopped in their vehicle to drive to the town offices to vote. The budget was approved by a vote of 24-17.
Virtual attendee Wayne Kudick lauded the board for taking on the road projects now rather than pushing them into the future, and he encouraged the town to continue its pursuit of hiring an administrator.
“I like the idea of an administrator,” he said. “So we can get the board talking about policies rather than minutiae. An administrator could help manage and accomplish more through committees.”
One attendee whose name was not clear because of audio issues suggested that although the town made a wise choice to perform more work on Peninsula Players Road and Gibraltar Road this year to save money, that expenditure should balance out with savings in future years. But the town has not reduced its road budget and is continuously playing catch-up on road maintenance, according to Supervisor Brian Merkel.
“We should be averaging two miles per year to keep up on our roads,” Merkel said, but he said the town typically does about one and a half miles per year.
Cal Burnton, a resident in the Fish Creek Condominiums, took issue with the upcoming special assessments for sidewalks and streetlights along Highway 42. Those costs total $554,123 for sidewalks and $811,128 for the streetlights. Though the board emphasized that the special assessments would be discussed during a meeting in 2021, Burnton argued those assessments are relevant to this year’s budget.
“Those sidewalks and lights should be part of this budget, and you’re trying to separate them,” Burnton said, noting that this year’s budget increase would be higher if the town asked all taxpayers to chip in rather than placing the cost only on those who own property along the highway.
Burnton asked the board how it decides which expenses, such as sidewalks and lighting, qualify for special assessments and which go into the budget, such as paving a stretch of rural road. Eventually Supervisor Bill Johnson answered that items go into the town budget when they are “for the common good of the public.”
After the meeting, Burnton elaborated on his point.
“If the ‘common good’ is the criterion, then certainly it should apply to improving the sidewalks and streetlights coming through town,” he said. “Everything benefits some people more than others, but if it’s for the benefit of the community, then we should all pay for it. To hit all these businesses who have suffered their worst year in decades with these huge assessments just doesn’t seem right.”
The villages of Ephraim and Sister Bay did not use special assessments to pay for the major sidewalk and lighting projects they’ve completed in recent years.
Gibraltar Town Chair Steve Sohns said the town will likely discuss the special assessments in February or March.