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TIF district vote signals worries about Port’s plan PDF Print E-mail
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Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM   
Wednesday, 26 April 2017 21:03

County, school reps cite concerns, abstain, but city tax district expansion OK’d

A resolution approving controversial revisions to Port Washington’s downtown tax incremental financing district that proponents say are key to development in the marina district was approved last week on a 3-0 vote of  the Joint Review Board — but two key members of the board abstained from the vote.

The abstentions came from Ozaukee County Treasurer Joshua Morrison and Port Washington-Saukville School Board Director of Business Services Jim Froemming.

“This is a very hot-button issue,” Morrison said. “This has become quite a thing in Port Washington. Some of it has gotten quite ugly.

“Financially it stands sound.  The projects sound really, really good. But socially, it has struck a chord with a lot of people. I am the treasurer of Ozaukee County. I do have to answer to the people. My question is, do the people want it?”

Froemming abstained from the vote at the direction of the School Board, which had voiced concerns about the city’s use of developer incentives and the value of the district to the school district.

“It’s not a no vote,” he said. “It’s a need for greater information.”

School board members last week expressed concern with the use of development incentives, with one board member describing them as akin to handouts for firms that reap profits from their projects.

They also said the development envisioned with the TIF plan doesn’t bring school-aged children into the district.

Ald. Doug Biggs, chairman of the Joint Review Board, agreed with Morrison’s statement that the marina district development has proven “divisive.” 

“There are very strong opinions on both sides, not just on the council level but at the citizen level,” Biggs said.  

But approval of the TIF amendments doesn’t automatically mean each of the proposed projects is approved, he added.

Each project within the TIF boundaries is vetted individually and publicly, Biggs said, and in the process makes its way through multiple committees that have both elected and citizen members.

“What this allows us to do is have options,” he said. “To not do it (approve the amendments) eliminates those options.”

 Eric Ryer, the citizen representative on the Joint Review Board, said that’s key.

“I think it’s worth giving the options to the elected officials and let them sort it out,’ he said.

Christy Cramer, the city’s TIF consultant, told the board that without the amendments, it’s unlikely that any major projects would move forward in the district.

That’s because the district is essentially out of money, she said.

The Joint Review Board’s vote was the last approval needed to finalize the amendments to the TIF district. Those changes included adding five lakefront-area properties to the district and as much as $7.65 million in developer incentives and $2.6 million for public infrastructure improvements.

The Common Council signed off on the amendments last month.

The amendments are expected to pay off by the time the TIF district, which was created in 2010, is dissolved in 2038.

If the costs are paid off before that time, the district could be dissolved earlier — something officials said is likely. The city’s first TIF district was dissolved about seven years earlier than expected, they noted.

The original TIF project plan forecast an increase in the tax base within the district at $10.9 million, Cramer said. The newly approved plan calls for an estimated $50 million increase — including a 20% increase in the city’s commercial tax base.

When the district is closed out, she added, almost $1 million in new tax revenue will be distributed among the taxing districts.

The projects envisioned under the revised TIF plan include residential and commercial projects on properties that include the NewPort Shores restaurant property, the city-owned car-trailer park and adjacent Victor’s Restaurant property, both on Washington Street.

Developer incentives have already been used to create the Harbour Lights condominium complex at the corner of Franklin and Main streets and promised for the development of the Blues Factory entertainment complex on the north slip marina parking lot.

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