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Pandemic begins creating uncertainty for county highway budgets

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Plowing Green County 12-30-2020

MADISON (WKOW) -- Some county highway departments are starting the year strapped for cash because COVID-19 has impacted their budgets. 

At the beginning of each year county highway departments have a pretty good idea on how much money they'll be able to spend on services and road projects, but due to the pandemic fewer people were driving, therefore not spending money on gas. 

"Revenue (from the gas tax) won't be there, that revenue will have to be made up somewhere else,” said Chris Narveson, Green County’s Highway Commissioner.

The gas tax you pay at the pump helps the state fund highway and road projects, but with fewer people buying gas Narveson said it will impact how much he can spend this year and how much revenue they’ll receive in 2022.

“If there's not something done, it will be a cut in services for the people," he said.

Smaller, rural counties are some of the hardest hit when it comes to funding highway departments. Green County implemented a $20 wheel tax to help which generates about $600,000 a year, said Narveson but it doesn't solve all their funding woes.

“That seems like a lot but to put that into perspective on how much road that will allow us to reconstruct -- it's about 3 miles of road."

Since 2020 just wrapped up, Narveson doesn't know exactly how much money his county is anticipated to lose due to the pandemic, but says cuts will be made.

It’s likely he will have to think twice when it comes to repairing his snowplow and fixing their outdated building this year to save money where they can, he said.

"Year after year we continue to fall behind. If you're going to have growth and expect people to live in our community you cannot continue to decrease services."

Raising the gas tax would help boost transportation funding but that’s not popular with everyone.

Republican lawmakers rejected the idea two years ago when Governor Evers proposed to raise it by 8-cents when introducing the state budget. Evers said he plans to prioritize transportation and infrastructure again this year when crafting his second state budget. 

The gas tax has been unchanged since 2006.

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Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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