Those at hearing say taxpayers shouldn’t have to subsidize private projects
The crowd was small but vocal last week in opposing changes to Port Washington’s downtown tax incremental financing district.
The group spoke during a Feb. 16 public hearing on the changes, which include increasing the size of the district and adding funds for developer’s incentives and infrastructure.
Those attending the hearing before the Plan Commission generally objected to the idea of development incentives, saying developers should not depend on city help for their businesses to be successful.
“From what I understand, the government of Port Washington is borrowing millions of dollars to help build facilities that are going to be owned by private individuals who are already wealthy,” Pat Roberts, 505 N. Montgomery St., said.
“That concept makes me want to puke.”
The city, he said, should instead build these developments itself and make the profit for the community, something he said Stockholm, Sweden, has done to great success.
The proposed amendments include $7.8 million in development incentives for a number of projects, including the already constructed Port Harbour Lights, an Ansay Development proposal for a marina district development and redevelopment of the Port Harbor Center and the Jadair property off Grand Avenue.
Mike Gasper, 514 W. Chestnut St., said he has no problem with the city using TIF money to fund infrastructure, but said he doesn’t believe the city should aid developers.
“I have no problem with using the TIF for sewer relocation,” said Gasper, a candidate for the city’s 3rd District aldermanic seat. “I don’t think it’s the city’s job to be financing this (projects) for developers. How can we assume it’s a safe investment for the city?”
If these were safe investments, he said, banks and investors would have no problem bankrolling these developments.
Offering incentives is a “slippery slope,” Gasper added.
“Every developer is going to expect them,” he said. “When can the rest of us get a TIF? I would love to get a low-interest loan to put a dormer on my house or a roof on my garage.”
City Administrator Mark Grams noted that TIF districts can only be used for specific types of development. The developers seeking to buy 44 acres of city property on the south bluff have asked the city to create a TIF there, he said, but “we cannot create a separate TIF there.”
Amy Otis-Wilborn, 233 E. Pier St., said that providing incentives to developers has changed the city’s role in development from that of overseer to partner.
“I don’t think this is necessarily the role of government or the way I think it should happen,” she said. “Developers should be a little bit at arm’s length.”
Otis-Wilborn, who said her house is surrounded by the TIF district, also criticized the city for not holding neighborhood meetings and conducting outreach to residents in the area before considering the changes.
“We’ve not been contacted by anyone from the city,” she said.
Kim Haskell, 767 W. Grand Ave., noted that many people feel frustrated by the process, especially the fact that when they ask questions during meetings officials don’t offer a direct reply.
While that may comply with city policy and rules, she said, it leaves people with an uneasy feeling. She suggested officials hold public forums where questions can be answered.
Barb Martzahl, 505 N. Montgomery St., agreed that she is frustrated with the process the city has followed.
People are shut out of the process, she said, when they need to be included, especially when it comes to the lakefront and its future.
“We want to come together and be heard,” she said, adding major decisions, especially regarding the lakefront, should be made by a referendum.
Martzahl also questioned the city’s assertion that additional residents in the downtown — a major focus of much of the proposed lakefront development included in the TIF district — would help the downtown businesses.
“How can you prove that to us?” she asked. “Are you going to screen the people?”
The Plan Commission took no action on the proposed amendments to the TIF district since financial projections were being reworked after Ansay Development abruptly announced Thursday that it was no longer planning to build a 44-unit luxury apartment building in the district. Instead, the firm plans to construct a smaller apartment building on the former Victor’s restaurant site, officials said.
The commission is expected to hold a special meeting to act on the TIF plan in the coming weeks in preparation for the Common Council to consider it on March 7.