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City ponders how much to spend on infrastructure, equipment

Sixth Street is in poor condition. Reconstructing it is one of the major capital projects the city's Finance Committee discussed in a review of a five-year financial plan for the city. The Sixth Street project is tentatively scheduled for 2016.

The Finance Committee of the Hudson City Council didn't like the bottom line of a five-year financial management plan it was presented with on April 16.

If all of the projects and purchases proposed for the next five years were to occur, city taxes would increase by roughly $1,000 for every $100,000 of property value, City Finance Officer Neil Soltis reported.

"It's nice to have all these projects out here, but it will come down to the council's tolerance for debt," Soltis said. "It becomes a policy question. What you're comfortable with."

"This is all a wish list now," said Mayor Alan Burchill. "It's pretty obvious that what we need to do is prioritize our capital projects list."

The city officials were reacting to an early draft of a five-year plan presented by Sean Lentz of Ehlers & Associates, the city's financial consultant.

City Administrator Devin Willi noted that some of the numbers in the plan need tweaking. For example, the three neighboring municipalities served by the Hudson Fire Department would play close to half the cost of a $1.3 million ladder engine, scheduled for purchase in 2017.

Alderperson Mary Yacoub pointed out that construction of a new public safety building wasn't included in the plan.

The major projects and purchases included in the plan were as follows:

--2013: Street improvement and maintenance, $2,003,100; front end loader, $200,000.

--2014: Burton Park, $475,000; street improvement and maintenance, $1,096,500; LED street lights, $280,500; City Hall heating, ventilating and air conditioning, $306,000.

--2015: Street improvement and maintenance, $1,118,430; Wisconsin, Vine, Locust street projects, dike road bridge repair, and Second Street alley repair, $2,548,980.

--2016: Street improvement and maintenance, $1,140,799; Sixth Street reconstruction, $2,122,416.

--2017: Fire department ladder engine, $1,298,919; Grandview Park, $600,000; street improvement and maintenance, $1,163,615.

Lentz said the city has maintained a flat tax levy for a number of years and pays off its new debt over a 10-year period.

"You have very low debt for a city your size, which is good," Lentz said, but added that the short repayment period limits the city's ability to take on new debt without increasing the tax levy.

Soltis reported that the city could increase its tax levy by $759,080 and still remain under the state-imposed levy limit. General obligation debt incurred after 2005 is no longer subject to the levy limit, he said.

Burchill suggested scaling back the amount of money spent on park projects. He said the City Council may also need to look at assessing property owners for a portion of the cost of street resurfacing and reconstruction projects.

Currently, homeowners are charged for only half the cost of the new sidewalk and curbing installed in front of their houses when a street is reconstructed.

Alderpersons John Hoggatt, Randy Morrissette II and Kurt TeWinkel indicated that street projects are a priority for them.

"Some things you can't not fix. Streets are one of them," said Hoggatt.

When Soltis questioned whether all the streets on the list are in need of total reconstruction, Morrissette replied, "The problem is we haven't been rebuilding."

"Every project on here is already a disaster," TeWinkel added.

Alderperson Lori Bernard said, "This is crazy when you look at the (tax) impact (of the plan).

Lentz suggested spreading the repayment of new debt over a 20-year period. He said the city could also prioritize projects and look for other funding sources for them.

The fees collected by the city's new stormwater utility can be used for a portion of the street construction projects, Lentz said.

He said the five-year financial plan would be revised to incorporate the ideas from the City Council.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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