PORT WASHINGTON – Port Washington Mayor Tom Mlada is pushing for an annual $20 wheel tax that would take effect in spring 2018.

The state allows town, villages, cities and counties to impose a wheel tax fee, as long as the revenue is only used for transportation-related purposes. The fee, which would have an expiration date that has not yet been determined, would be tacked on to the annual state registration fee of $75. 

Port Washington borrows about $875,000 per year for road construction projects, but ideally, Mlada said, he would like the city to invest, rather than merely borrowing, about $1 million per year to maintain roadways — not to mention the additional cost of repairing the city’s worst streets.

Right now, 16 of 60 miles of the city’s streets are rated between 1 and 4 on the 10-point Pavement Surface Evaluation Rating system. Fixing those 16 miles of roadway would cost about $20 million, or $2 million over the next 20 years. Again, the city only borrows $875,000 per year for road construction. 

The wheel tax would generate about $200,000 in annual revenue, based on the 10,400 registered vehicles in the city.

“This is something we have talked about for several years now in terms of needing to be more open-minded about potential solutions above and beyond borrowing for our needs,” Mlada said. “Our reality is that we need to not only do right by today’s residents but by future residents. Hopefully we can acknowledge that we do have that calling, that obligation to take the hard but necessary steps to look at other sources of revenue so we don’t kick that can down the road.”

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Uphill battle

City Administrator Mark Grams said many communities in Wisconsin are forced to borrow for road construction projects, since the state government limits the tax levy of local governments. 

Additionally, Mlada said more communities are feeling the pinch of flat transportation aid from the state. This past year, Port Washington received $688,000 in transportation aid, which is about the same amount it…