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Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce says proposed fee “falls way short,” offers alternative

Local News

OSHKOSH, Wis. (WFRV) — In a letter addressed to the mayor and members of the City Council, the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce offered an alternative to the proposed Transportation Utility Fee Program.

The TUF Program is currently under consideration.

“Our aim, as is shared by members of the City Council, is to eliminate special assessments for street improvements for residential property owners. As an organization, we support the City Council’s effort to provide relief from street improvement special assessments for this class of property owner,” the Chamber states in their letter.

The alternative proposal includes four parts:

  1. Implement a Vehicle Registration Fee (VRF)/Wheel Tax program as allowed by current State Statute. This VRF would be imposed on all vehicles registered in the City of Oshkosh up to 8,000 lbs. The Chamber estimates about 50,000 registered vehicles would be subject to the VRF.
  2. Revenues generated by the VRF would be used exclusively to eliminate street related special assessments for residential property owners only.
  3. Maintain the existing special assessment policy for all non-residential property owners.
  4. Any business that has a service-related vehicle that would be subjected to the City’s VRF would be afforded an opportunity to apply and receive a credit for the VRF imposed since the nonresidential property owners would continue to be assessed under the existing special assessment policy.

According to the Chamber, this proposal allows property owners to receive relief from street improvement special assessment they desire.

“The revenues generated by the VRF will be paid by motorists that are residents of the City. These residents will be the primary benefactors of the relief that is provided to residential property owners,” says the Chamber.

Those who are not residential property owners will continue to contribute to street improvements just as they currently do under the existing assessment policy. These non-residential property owners “only pay when they directly benefit from the street improvement.”

The Chamber says, “We see this proposal as a more fair and equitable approach to satisfying the City’s desire to eliminate special assessments for residential property owners. We believe this approach aligns and provides a more reasonable relationship between the fee being imposed and the service for which the fee is being imposed.”

According to the letter, the proposed TUF Program does not meet “the fair and equitable standard that we believe City Council is attempting to develop.”

The Chamber went on to lay out concerns regarding the proposed plan:

“Our concerns remain:

  1. The proposed Utility uses the wrong metric. Impervious surface (roof tops and parking lots) is not an appropriate or equitable measure to tax non-residential property owners. There is no fundamental relationship between impervious surface and street and sidewalk deterioration. Vehicles cause wear-and-tear on streets, not roof tops and parking lots.
  2. The proposed Utility shifts the financial burden of street improvements and sidewalk repair disproportionately to non-residential property owners. Under the proposed Utility, this class of property owner would shoulder 52.5% on the total cost of this program.
  3. The proposed Utility includes the cost of sidewalk repair and replacement. The City’s sidewalk replacement program is an inappropriate expense category for the proposed Utility. Impervious surface or vehicular traffic, for that matter, does not cause sidewalks to deteriorate. The cost of sidewalk repair is more appropriately and equitably funded through the City’s general fund. However, if the City is unable to manage this and reprioritize its operational spending, the cost of the sidewalk replacement program should be the responsibility of the adjacent property owner and should not be included in the proposed Utility.
  4. The proposed Utility will assess non-residential property owners on a per parcel basis even if the parcels are contiguous and constitute a single business or institutional campus. In instances like this, a single business and institutional campus should be treated as one property for the purpose of establishing and assigning Development Area Units and the corresponding fee, regardless of the ownership structure. The non-residential property owner should not have to incur additional expense to legally adjoin adjacent parcels. Any treatment other than treating contiguous parcels as one is nothing more than a money grab and is quite frankly insulting to your tax payer.
  5. Adopting the proposed Utility is setting-up the City of Oshkosh for a legal challenge. State Statute 66.0626(4) establishes that a “reasonable relationship” needs to exist between the fee imposed and the services for which the fee is imposed. Specifically, with the inclusion of sidewalk replacement and repair expense within the expense structure of the Utility, the City has not met that standard. This will undoubtedly be challenged and/or appealed if the Utility is established as proposed. The burden of proof will be on the City of Oshkosh to establish this “reasonable relationship.” The likelihood of the City prevailing on this challenge is remote. Also, WMC issued an opinion challenging whether the City of Oshkosh has the statutory authority to create a Transportation Utility and to levy a Utility fee. City administration cited several substatutes as the basis for establishing the proposed Utility. In the so-noted subchapters, “public utility” is defined to mean certain persons or entities, including cities “that may own, operate, manage, or control any toll bridge or all or any part of a plant or equipment, within the state, for the production, transmission, delivery or furnishing of heat, light, water or power either directly or indirectly to or for the public.” It is unlikely the proposed Utility being created under this City ordinance qualifies as “public utility” under this definition because it is being created to provide “transportation management services” not heat, light, water or power. This should cause the City to take a pause to do further analysis on its basis before it adopts this Utility. Anything less would be irresponsible and would expose the City to future legal action.”

The Chamber closed out the letter by stating their “alternative proposal is something all property owners can accept.”

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