WISCONSIN RAPIDS, Wis. (WSAU) -- Wood County is looking for solutions to a couple of problems that many other counties are facing: Facility issues and highway funding.
County Board Chairman Lance Pliml says the county board is still working on a facilities study to help determine what they need, how to make it more efficient, and save money wherever possible. One building getting a close look is the courthouse structure. “It’s been kept up, but when you have a 60-year-old courthouse, there’s plumbing, there’s air handling units, heating and everything else that is constantly being replaced, and we obviously have, because it was built in a time when that wasn’t such a big concern, we have some security needs we’d like to address with our courtrooms.”
Pliml says the facilities study is not complete yet, but when it is, they will have some tough decisions to make. “Do we build on site? Do we expand? Do we remodel? If we do, where do we do it? Can we co-locate different departments in a centralized location?”
One county facility that is already undergoing a major renovation and addition is Edgewater Haven Nursing Home in Port Edwards. That project is expected to be completed and rededicated in July.
The State of Wisconsin isn’t the only unit of government looking for ways to pay for highway maintenance and construction. So are the counties.
Lance Pliml says counties including Wood have been forced to run financially leaner and leaner for many years, and there are not many more places you can cut without affecting critical operations. Pliml says state and federal highway funding changes have passed less money to counties, and that means trouble unless something changes. “Long term, we don’t have adequate funding available with the current mechanisms to handle the long term maintenance of our county highway system. You know, we have over time delayed longer and longer the repairs and stretched them out as far as we can, but at some point, you’re going to hit a breaking point.”
Wood County has managed to keep their debt load very low and they’ve avoided tax increases, but Pliml fears there may be a tax increase in the future if other new ways to pay for roads don’t come along soon. “We’ve had zero increase in sixteen years in our county. You know, would they (taxpayers) be willing to take on a one percent (tax increase)? Would they take on a two? Or, is there some other way out there that we can cut spending?”
Counties are also bound by state revenue caps.
Wood County is one of the few that collects payments from frac sand haulers to cover the cost of maintaining county highways specifically used by the sand trucks. Pliml says those are segregated dollars set aside specifically for those roads, which still leaves the rest of the county highway budget in a pinch.
It’s not just a Wood County problem. State and federal highway aids affect every county. Wisconsin is already projecting their own deficit for maintaining state roads since gas tax revenues are way down due to more efficient vehicles and a slight reduction in the number of vehicles on the roads.