What to do about another Snowy Day?

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Feb 13, 2008 No Comments ›› admin

February 13, 2008

Snow advisory in effect today. Storm total accumulation 2 to 4 inches. Low near zero.

East winds 5 to 10 mph. Chance of snow 100 percent.

It has been a winter of snowy day after snowy day.

“It is only February, and we are already halfway through our budget for snow removal,” said the local County Board Chair. “And our budget year goes through all of 2008.”

It is “County Day” and I am visiting with County Board officials. They are visiting legislators during their annual trip to the capitol. The conversation turns to budgets and money. Times are tough in county government. And, as much as we love the snow, the cost of removing the snow is putting local government budgets on thin ice.

Parts of Wisconsin have seen record and near record snow fall this winter. Different parts of the state have been disproportionately affected.

We all want our snow plowed as soon as possible. Getting the job done often falls to local government. Increasing size and frequency of snowfalls translates to a much higher cost for local government.

One surprise I had when I began my service as Senator was learning the struggles of our local government. So many times we hear about the money local government needs to fund services. But did you know that that our state has not raised the amount the state sends to local government (shared revenue) in over twelve years?

Couple the state’s lack of funding with rising costs of everything from fuel to health insurance and then mix in the rules that the state places on local government – including the limits the county or city can raise from local property tax – and we end up with a very difficult job balancing the budget.

But help may be on the way if a proposal that Representative Gary Hebl (D-Sun Prairie) and I have just introduced. If the bill makes its way through the legislature we may be able to bring some relief to municipalities and taxpayers hardest hit by high snow removal costs.

The bill would create a “Snowy Day Fund”. Municipalities could apply for a grant of up to $50,000 for each winter maintenance season. The Department of Transportation (DOT) supports the program and they would be responsible for administering the fund. Each municipality would be able to apply to DOT by May 1 to be considered.

The bill uses $500,000 in existing balance from the Transportation Fund to establish the Snowy Day Fund for this year and the next. In future years, the Legislature will determine the amount of money that is available through the budget process.

We often take for granted the services that local government provides. Snow removal is one of those services we all need to get to our jobs, get the children to school and get the goods to market. We plan our lives around whether or not the country road has been plowed. And sometimes, late at night, we hear the snow plow and thank God the roads will be cleared in the morning. But it all costs money.

Have an idea to help local and state government? Let me know. Contact my office in Madison at 877-763-6636 (toll free) or in Black River Falls at (715) 284-1730; or write: State Capitol; P.O. Box 7882 Madison, WI 53707-7882. You can always email me at Sen.Vinehout@legis.wisconsin.gov.

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