No Property Tax Increase in 2015 

By Jann Wiswall

Did you know that all roads in the Town of Mansfield have a 55 mph speed limit unless otherwise posted?

Some residents of Kidney Road think that’s too fast and asked the town’s board to take action to lower the speed limit along their road.

Residents Wade Hendricks, Chris Polino and Urie Hochstetler came to the Sept. 22 board meeting prepared with talking points, aerial photos, speed crash data, and correspondence with Tom Messana, the regional traffic engineer for region 5 of the State’s Department of Transportation. They argued that many drivers along Kidney Road far exceed the 55 mph speed limit, which is used as a cut-through to and from points north. Because of the road’s conditions, the presence of children, pedestrian and Amish buggy use, the residents feel that there are significant safety issues that can be reduced with a lower speed limit.

They also understood from their contact with Messana and Mansfield Town Supervisor Bob Keis that there is a formal process that must be followed, which Keis explained to the board.

The first step is for the board to pass a resolution requesting a lower speed limit. That request must go to the county highway superintendent. Then the county superintendent must submit a request to the state, which then would conduct a traffic engineering study. If the study concludes that a lower speed limit is warranted, the state assigns that maximum speed.

Keis noted that, in his experience, the state rarely changes speed limits since its policy, as confirmed by Messana, is “to establish a speed limit that represents the speed at which most vehicles are already traveling.” Keis said the existing laws were established partially to keep municipalities from creating “speed traps.”

The board felt that the issue had merit, however, so resolved to make the request.

FEMA Consultant Contract

At a special board meeting held on Sept. 10, the board authorized town staff to advertise a request-for-proposals for continuing disaster recovery consulting services to complete the task begun under emergency contract by Simmons Recovery Consulting (SRC). The deadline for proposals was Sept. 19.

SRC was the only firm to reply.

At that special meeting, SRC shared its initial analysis and progress, noting that, in its first 2 ½ weeks of work, it had identified an estimated $343,500 of damage to 17 of the town’s roads, bridges, drainage ditches and culverts that can be attributed to heavy storms last May. They also were working on preparing engineering estimates for mitigation. Two of the road projects had been submitted to FEMA for approval and payment, a process that takes an average of 14 weeks.

As of the Sept. 22 regular meeting, Keis reported that SRC had submitted one additional project to FEMA. The three submitted projects total some $97,000 in qualified damages.

The board expressed concerns that SRC, which had indicated it would be submitting three to four projects per week, had only submitted one since the last meeting and that its initial 30-day contract not-to-exceed $30,000 is only a few days from expiring. The firm, which had no representatives present at the board meeting, also estimated that all 17 projects would be submitted by early- to mid-October.

Several board members felt that not enough progress had been made and that they were concerned the firm is not performing as promised.

Keis and highway superintendent Brad Hurley both felt that significant progress has been made and that, while the number of submitted projects may be lower than expected, all of the remaining projects are much closer to submission. They could not be more specific, however.

The board felt it needs to see documented progress and wants a firm deadline for project completion. In order to keep the project on track, the board authorized Keis to sign a not-to-exceed $10,000 contract on the condition that SRC attend another special meeting on Sept. 29 with documentation of progress in hand. Keis also asked board member Robert Schmidt to talk in person with SRC’s representative before the special meeting to explain the board’s concerns and expectations.

The special meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at the town hall.

2015 Town Budget

Keis provided the board with a tentative 2015 budget that included 2013 budget year actual figures and 2014 approved budget figures for comparison. Overall, the tentative budget is balanced, with expenses for general government totaling $352,845 compared to the 2014 budget of $340,453. Highway department expenses total $764,137, compared to $751,633 in 2014. Revenues will meet expenses.

The board will not increase the property tax rate in 2015. The rate will remain at $4.75 per $1,000 of assessed property value, a number that has not changed since 2013.

The largest increase to general government expenses will be worker’s compensation insurance, estimated to go up about $6,500. The board also approved annual salary increases for the highway superintendent, building inspector, assessor, court employees and town clerk.

These expenses will be covered primarily by anticipated revenue increases from sales and mortgage taxes.

For the highway department, the biggest new expense is debt service and interest payments on the funds borrowed to purchase the new Mack truck, which was partially covered by the insurance settlement from the October 2012 fire that destroyed the highway department garage. The annual payment on this debt is $19,000 plus a 2015 interest payment of $6,650. The board also authorized a 2 percent hourly rate increase for department employees.

To save money, the department’s machinery expenditures budget was cut by $10,000. Most machinery is relatively new since it was replaced with insurance funds. In addition, the state retirement contribution is going down in 2015 for an expected savings of about $7,000.

The department’s share of property taxes, sales taxes, a conservatively estimated $49,035 in FEMA funding and CHIPS funds make up the bulk of revenues to cover expenses.

Hurley expressed concern that the board had not proposed any increase to the department’s overall budget. He explained that, for example, the cost of salt and sand alone will consume most of the proposed snow removal materials budget. While he was supportive of the board’s determination to hold tax rates steady, he said the board needs to find a way to markedly increase the department budget.

“We need to plan fast for the long term,” he said.

Keis said he agrees with Hurley, but that next year, FEMA reimbursements will be available and, beginning in 2016, property taxes on new lots at HoliMont’s WestMont Ridge will be collected. Keis said he hopes the board will direct those revenues to the highway department.

The board approved the tentative budget and authorized it to become the preliminary budget that will be filed with the state comptroller.

In addition, a public hearing on the budget will be held at the next regular board meeting at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 20.