Keating Report: 2015 forecast on government budgets and spending—Part 4
For 2015, town budgets in Wisconsin will likely remain flat, predicts Mike Koles, who is executive director of the Wisconsin Towns Association. Koles says the no-growth budgets are “due to state-imposed levy limits that mandate the levy percent increase to be no greater than the percent increase in value due to new construction.”
Koles says inflationary cost pressures in road construction and fire and rescue may force Cheese State townships to reduce their offerings of other services, or that those services just won’t be offered at their current levels. He believes, however, that maintenance of town roads will remain a locally provided service.
Koles notes that the tourism, agriculture, timber, and mining industries all rely upon Wisconsin roads. “Inability to invest in transportation is reaching a point that our rural economy is being jeopardized. Currently, we cannot adequately invest in our transportation system to support economic growth,” he adds.
Koles says that Wisconsin’s state transportation secretary has recently proposed a substantial investment in transportation that would require tax and fee changes. “Local governments and many others support the investment; however, many other groups want to enjoy safe and efficient transportation and the economic vitality that results, but don’t want to pay for it. We can’t have it both ways.”
Koles says that he is hopeful that some increased road investment will take place. He notes, however, that “Politicians will need courage to truly make the investment necessary to address the transportation challenges at all levels of government. If they can’t muster the courage, then we’ll be stuck with incremental investments that at best allow us to stay at the status quo funding, which will result in poorer roads.”
In Pennsylvania, townships are facing both opportunities and challenges, says David Sanko (photo below, on right), who is executive director of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors.
On the plus side, Sanko sees economic growth from the Keystone State’s energy industry. ““For example, the development of the Marcellus Shale, an energy-producing powerhouse, has revitalized rural communities across Pennsylvania that had become stagnant and hopeless after losing core industries, residents, and jobs,” says Sanko.
The growth of natural gas production from shale in Pennsylvania has spawned a new revenue source for townships, adds Sanko. It’s the local impact fee that natural gas companies pay. Sanko’s group, the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, and its members, supported imposition of the fee. “Over the past three years, $630 million has been distributed to local governments and state agencies for transportation, public safety, the environment, flood control, water and sewer systems and recreational facilities,” says Sanko.
The year 2015 starts with new leadership in Pennsylvania’s state capital, says Sanko. He believes the changing of the guard makes things less certain. “New Governor Tom Wolf and a new class of state lawmakers have arrived in Harrisburg with their own priorities and ideas. Already, there is talk of replacing the local natural gas impact fee with a severance tax that would primarily support education.” Sanko told GPN, “While municipal officials oppose the plan, they are committed to working with the new administration to keep the commonwealth on its positive path.”