Middleton referendum asks taxpayer help to fund flood repairs

MIDDLETON (WKOW) — Historic flooding devastated parts of Middleton, including the Pheasant Branch Conservancy where high water washed out bridges and trails and eroded the banks of the Pheasant Branch Creek. Months later, the city has decided the park includes a number of repairs they can’t afford to defer.

According to Middleton Alder JoAnna Richard, August’s storms were a demonstration of the power of storm water and as it rushed through the Pheasant Branch Corridor, it destroyed much of what was meant to slow it down.That’s why Richard said the city needs to get the corridor back into shape and make its mitigation methods stronger.

“Our infrastructure is too vital to not pay attention to it and not rebuild it and not restore it,” she said.

While the city is hoping FEMA funds will help, Richard said the emergency management agency won’t cover all of the more than $6 million dollars in damage to public lands. FEMA will only cover damage to structures that were already engineered and even then, Richard said the city only expects FEMA to cover a maximum of 85 percent of those damages, leaving the city to cover about $1.5 million.

That’s why she said the common council is hoping taxpayers will pitch in.

“It really is a community activity and a community fee makes the most sense,” Richard said.

The council proposed a storm water utility fee increase. The yearly fee currently costs about $15 per household, the city proposed to triple that to a $45 fee for five years. Taxpayers can decide if they agree on the April 2 ballot where the measure will appear as a referendum question.

If it passes, the measure is expected to raise $2.8 million.

“The repairs have to happen so having the cash upfront where we can start doing those repairs is going to be really helpful,” Richard said.

Last week, the Friends of the Pheasant Branch Conservancy Board voted to endorse the referendum. Even if it passes though, co-president of the board, Pam Shannon, said the city shouldn’t expect the conservancy to open in the near future.

“It’s an ongoing process, so its going to take awhile,” she said. “We need to be patient, and we can study this thoroughly so we can make the best decisions we can.”

If the measure does not pass, Richard said the council still plans to fund the repairs and flood mitigation but the money will likely come from cutting other areas of the budget.

“We’d have to look at do we want to repair this road this year or do we have to delay it because we have to make other priorities for the corridor,” she said.

Along with the Pheasant Branch Corridor, the measure will fund repairs to the Tiedeman Pond and Stricker Pond. The Middleton City Council hopes they can start working on repairs and mitigation efforts by this fall.

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