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Martell: Town asks taxpayers to pay more for roads

The Martell Town Board is asking its residents for more money to improve and repair the town's roads.

A referendum question on next Tuesday's town ballot asks voters for permission to increase Martell's 2009 spending on roads by $65,000. That would mean a tax increase of $166 per $100,000 of property value.

State law limits town road spending to $5,000 per mile per year. For Martell, that means the town can spend $270,000 on town roads each year and needs voter approval to spend more.

"People are calling me all the time (saying), 'Can you look at our road?'" said Martell Town Chairman Arby Linder. "But there are only so many dollars."

He agrees many town roads need work, but said that, with state-imposed tax levy limits and ever-increasing material costs, Martell can't keep up.

The town has 54 miles of roads. Linder said 15-20 of those miles are blacktopped.

"After years of minimum road improvements, the town board is working to implement a 30-year road plan," said Linder in a letter to town taxpayers. After holding two public hearings this summer, the town board adopted a proposal to work on a dozen town roads in the next five years.

The proposal involves improving 1.8 miles of road a year. The per-mile cost to improve a road can range from $25,200 to $387,385, depending on the work that's needed, said Linder. Some roads need only additional gravel, some need an extra layer of asphalt and some need complete rebuilding.

The 1.8 mile-per-year plan would cost $45,360 to $697,293 per year, depending on the work needed.

The $5,000 per mile spending limit could be lifted by a majority vote at the town annual meeting or during a referendum election. The town board chose to go the referendum route.

"We feel the people should have a right to vote on it," said Linder. "An annual meeting, not everybody shows up, just a handful.'

Most property tax dollars go to schools and other levels of government, leaving towns with limited resources, said Linder.

"Our budget hasn't changed," said Linder, referring to state-mandated levy limits that allowed the town to increase its taxes only two percent during a time when expenses are increasing at a faster rate.

That five-year plan developed by the board last summer would improve about 29 miles of road, including 690th Street, 650th Street, 610th Street, 770th Avenue, 690th Avenue, 870th Avenue, 810th Avenue, 760th Avenue, 590th Street, 890th Avenue, 620th Street and 510th Street.

The referendum, if adopted, would allow the town to increase its budget only for 2009. Future year increases would require further approval by town voters.