Written by BILL SCHANEN IV
Wednesday, 11 April 2012 17:20
District makes final payment on maintenance work loan that changed school officials’ approach to borrowing
Just nine years after winning voter approval to borrow $2.6 million, the Port Washington-Saukville School Board has repaid the loan and is free of referendum debt.
The district made its last payment of $465,000 at the beginning of the month.
“This is terrific,” Supt. Michael Weber said. “We have no referendum debt. There just aren’t many districts in this situation.
“This is a milestone for me. In all the years I’ve been a superintendent (22), I’ve never been in a district that has made a final payment on its referendum debt until now.”
The money was spent on a host of improvement projects throughout the district that included heating upgrades, a new Port Washington High School gym floor and a makeover of outdoor athletic facilities.
“For what we were able to accomplish with $2.6 million, this was a good referendum,” Weber said.
More than allowing the district to accomplish deferred maintenance projects, the referendum, and its failed predecessor, set the tone for the district for years to come. In November 2002, voters rejected a more costly referendum proposal. Stunned but determined to fund a more austere improvement initiative, school officials turned to their constituents for guidance.
“I remember walking through Harry’s (restaurant) and people saying, ‘OK, Patty, you asked for our input so you better sit down and talk with us for awhile,’” School Board President Patty Ruth said.
Board member Myron Praeger said, “We actually run our district the way we do today because we asked the community what it thought and we listened.”
Five months after the referendum defeat, voters approved a revised borrowing plan and officials vowed to change the way they did business.
First, a School Board wary of saddling the district with long-term debt decided to repay the $2.6 million in just nine years despite foreseeable financial challenges.
“To take such a short term on this amount of money really shows the fiscal responsibility of the board,” Director of Business Services Jim Froemming said.
Then the board made good on a pledge Weber announced prior to the second referendum vote by creating a budget line item for building and grounds maintenance so the district would not have to ask voters again for permission to borrow for routine upgrades.
Today, the district has a $200,000 maintenance fund and is considering increasing it to $300,000.
“Eventually, we may need to go to referendum to take care of expensive projects like the replacement of roofs, but that’s a lot different than going to referendum to fund yearly maintenance,” Weber said.
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 04 April 2012 18:53
Port Washington aldermen were expected on Wednesday to consider revising the terms of a $125,000 revolving loan it gave Lighthouse Development to improve the Smith Bros. Marketplace building almost two years ago.
The move is a concession to the fact that Lighthouse Development will have to do substantial work on the landmark downtown building before Duluth Trading Co. moves in, City Administrator Mark Grams said.
“They need money upfront,” Grams said. “They’re making a lot of improvements to the building. I don’t know how many of the improvements they realized they would have to make to secure Duluth.”
Grams said Tuesday that he would likely recommend that the loan be repaid through the proceeds of the downtown tax incremental financing district.
“At least we’ll get our money back,” he said, adding that the loan will then probably be repaid in about 10 years instead of the roughly 20 years originally envisioned.
The tax district is also an appropriate way to repay the loan because Duluth Trading Co.’s move will attract other businesses to downtown, increasing the value of the district, Grams said.
“I’m guessing a year from now you’re going to see more businesses downtown,” he said.
Already a number of other stores and businesses have contacted nearby building owners — including the owner of the former M&I Bank building just down the block from the Smith Bros. building — asking about vacant spaces, Grams said.
“I’m surprised at the number of people who have come up to me and said they’re excited about Duluth coming. I didn’t realize how big they are.”
The city initially made the revolving loan to Lighthouse so it could renovate the Smith Bros. building to accommodate Franklin Energy, which occupies the second floor of the structure.
The money was to be used to buy equipment, fixtures and furnishings and help finance capital expenses, aldermen said at the time.
Part of the goal in bringing Franklin Energy to downtown was to create additional traffic in the shopping district with the goal of attracting additional stores and offices, they noted.
Lighthouse Development has been paying back the revolving loan, Grams said, noting the payments thus far have gone to pay interest. The interest rate on the loan is 1.625%.
Aldermen gave conceptual approval to the idea of revising the loan following a closed session before Duluth Trading Co. announced plans to locate its second retail store in Port Washington.
Grams said the Common Council isn’t necessarily setting a precedent by revising the terms of the loan or allowing TIF funds to be used to repay it, noting the fact Duluth Trading Co. will become a downtown anchor played a significant role in the council’s decision.
“This is a big company coming into our town,” he said. “If it was a Ma and Pa restaurant, I don’t know if we would do anything.”
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 28 March 2012 18:34
Incumbent Larson faces Schwister in race for Port’s 6th District aldermanic seat
Port Washington Ald. Dave Larson said he’s believes the city’s heading in the right direction, and he’s seeking a third term in office to help shepherd the community as it works to realize its potential.
But newcomer Tim Schwister said he’s seen little improvements in the city’s 6th District, and he wants to lead the way toward these advancements.
The men will vie for the chance to represent the city’s southwest side in the Tuesday, April 3 election.
Schwister, 39, of 1414 Willow Dr., said there’s more unemployment in the district than elsewhere in the city, and he wants to work to draw industrial business and jobs to the community.
“I don’t think there’s enough of an effort to do that right now,” he said. “Several of our elected officials are too concentrated on downtown. People need a place to work, then they can shop downtown.”
This city’s done a good job with the downtown, he said, creating a reasonable business environment there.
The city should provide incentives to businesses to come to the community and fill the many vacant buildings here, Schwister added.
By attracting jobs, he said, the city will also help the struggling housing market and enable people to realize their dream of owning a home.
“I think we should do everything we can to make that dream a reality,” Schwister said.
Larson, 45, of 509 Summit Dr., said the city has a great opportunity to redefine downtown with the coming of Duluth Trading Co.
“The city did some really great things to make that happen,” he said of the company’s decision to open a store downtown. “Now, we have an opportunity to solicit the businesses we want to see there rather than waiting for them to call.”
The city should update the marketing study done by the Taurean group to see what businesses would complement the mix downtown, he said, then go after them.
The city’s biggest role in downtown development, he said, is to create an environment in which it’s easy to do business. In the past, he said, the city’s been seen as an impediment, but that’s changing.
As evidence, he pointed to the city’s support of plans to renovate the former M&I Bank building.
Tied to the downtown is the lakefront, an area where Larson said the city has made leaps forward.
The south beach “is fabulous,” he said, while the north beach is equally nice.
“We’ve got good access to the north beach,” he said, especially since the staircase connecting it to Upper Lake Park was built. “The only thing the city could do, as technology advances, is reduce the footprint of the wastewater treatment plant.”
The city’s making progress on developing the coal dock, Larson said, noting much of the funding for the infrastructure is coming from grants.
But now, he said, the city has some decisions to make. It has to come up with some creative ways to tie the coal dock to downtown. To do that, Larson said, the city could create a team of people from government and the community to come up with creative options.
The city should also consider updating its development plan for the coal dock, he said, perhaps looking at the potential of a shipwreck museum as considered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is contemplating the creation of a maritime sanctuary off Port’s shore.
“I think the NOAA concept would be great,” Larson said. “But we need to consider other ideas in case it doesn’t happen.
“This (the coal dock) is a big deal. We want that to succeed. Some people are upset it’s taken so long, but I’d rather we take the time and do it right.”
Schwister said additional environmental impact and seismic studies should be done before anything’s developed on the coal dock.
“I would like to see something built on the coal dock, but I don’t think it’s time yet,” he said. “We don’t want to build something and have it crumble under our feet. We don’t know if it (the coal dock) is stable. It bothers me. We should get the information.”
In terms of the lakefront, he said the city has a gem in the north beach but should work to improve access to the south beach and clean it.
“It’s a very nice place to go, but it’s very inaccessible,” Schwister said. “I’d like to see if we could do something more with the south beach.”
He said the city should petition lawmakers to fix the breakwater, even if it means heading to Washington, D.C., to speak to them directly. If that doesn’t work, the city should repair the structure, Schwister said.
“It’s our responsibility to take care of our city,” he said. “If it’s a danger, which it is, we should be proactive.”
Until it’s fixed, the city should consider restricting access to it during storms, Schwister added.
Both Larson and Schwister said that there’s little for the city to do right now about the hundreds of acres on the city’s south side annexed in 2000 by Brookfield developer Vincent Kuttemperoor, whose ambitious plans for a high-end, multi-use development are unlikely to be realized now that he has lost control of the land.
“I say we should let it sit and wait (for developers to approach the city),” Larson said. “To spend too much time on that right now might be a waste of energy. If we paintourselves in a corner without hearing their ideas, we may miss out on something.”
Schwister, who ran unsuccessfully for state Assembly last year, said he is seeking a seat on the Common Council to help make a difference in his district and the community.
“I will be open, honest, forthcoming and always available,” he said.
Larson noted that he and his family are involved in the community and in the downtown, where he and his wife work.
“We have a personal interest in the development and growth of the city,” he said. “You’re going to get the best I have. The decisions I make affect every aspect of my life.”
Port redistricting has incumbents competing for same 2nd District post
Voters in Port Washington’s 2nd District will have their choice of two incumbents on the April 3 ballot — Paul Neumyer and Burt Babcock.
Neumyer, of 643 N. Milwaukee St., has represented the city’s 2nd District since 2007, while Babcock, 221 W. Main St., has represented the 4th District since 1998. They are vying against each other for a seat on the Common Council because a fluke in redistricting placed them in the same district.
“It’s unfortunate we both got stuck running in the same district,” said Neumyer, 57. “Burt’s a nice man. His heart is in the right place. But I feel I know the residents of the 2nd District.”
Babcock, called the situation “unusual,” but said competition is good for the city.
“In a democracy, you should have more than one person running so people have a choice,” he said. “I feel I’ve done a good job for the 4th District.”
He said he would like to work to do an equally good job for the 2nd District.
Overall, Babcock said, his first priority for the city is development of the coal dock infrastructure.
Full development will take time because of the high cost, and it will likely require public-private cooperation, Babcock said, adding a partnership with We Energies could create a demonstration project on energy conservation. He said he would also like to see a community center that incorporates a hall or private shops if it can be done legally.
No matter how it’s done, it’s important that the coal dock be developed in a way that doesn’t require a significant amount of maintenance by the Parks and Recreation Department staff, which is already burdened, Babcock said.
The city should take a look at its parks and determine if they are all needed, added Babcock, a member of the Parks and Recreation Board. If they aren’t, he said, the city should consider selling a few and using the profits to maintain the others.
This will also help keep the city’s taxes down, increase the tax base and avoid layoffs and cuts in services, he said.
“Thirty-six parks is probably more than we really need,” Babcock said.
Neumyer said he understands people are frustrated because the coal dock hasn’t been opened yet, but said the city has a good, workable plan for the area that will be implemented.
“It’s a good plan, and we have to build on it,” he said. “We may have to tweak it.”
The city’s been fortunate to receive a number of large grants to help pay for the infrastructure, Neumyer said, but because of the cost of the full development it may take some time.
One priority should be the construction of restrooms, which would also serve the south beach, Neumyer said.
“That’s something we’re going to have to look at. It will make it a lot more user-friendly,” he said.
The south beach is a gem, Neumyer said, and a tremendous asset along the lakefront. But the city needs to improve the entrance to the north beach, where the bluff regularly slumps and sends mounds of earth over the pathway leading to the sand.
“We don’t know how to address it right now, but we need to look at it,” he said.
Babcock said he would like to see the city be more active on the lakeshore, pushing for cruise ships to visit and for the community to stress efforts to preserve Lake Michigan.
Neumyer said his top priority is to maintain the current level of services and infrastructure in the city even as the budget gets tighter.
“We’re going to have to get creative,” he said. “We’re not catching up with our road repairs, and we have a lot of roads in need of some major repairs.”
The city has to look at its industrial base and work to attract new industry, Neumyer said, while balancing that with commercial and residential development.
Babcock agreed that the city needs to continue to market itself to industry.
“We are a very nice place to live, have a talented workforce and we’ve lost a myriad of jobs,” he said. “With a concerted effort, hopefully we could change that.”
Babcock said he would like to see the city consider a tax incremental financing district for the hundreds of acres that make up the former VK Homes land on the city’s south side.
The city could set the tone for that area when it sells 40 acres of land it owns north of that property, Babcock said.
Neumyer said the city needs to plan for the area before developers buy the land.
“Do we want that in residential use? Do we want it in light industrial use, especially those areas near the industrial park?” he asked. “It may be time to revisit the plan. Developers can tell us what they want to do, but it has to be what the city wants. We need to decide where we’re going there.
“Whatever we do, it has to be integrated with the city. It’s not going to be a stand-alone community. It’s part of the City of Port Washington.”
Both men said the city has done a good job creating a positive environment for business to flourish in downtown.
“It’s been a long, hard struggle but we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” Neumyer said. “Duluth Trading Co. is going to be a big shot in the arm for downtown. I’m hoping the restaurants and other businesses all benefit from that.”
Babcock said the downtown will also benefit from the renovation of the former M&I Bank project, something he worked hard to ensure would happen.
“To me, it makes no sense to tear the building down if it can be fixed and made useful again,” he said.
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM and CAROL POMEDAY
Wednesday, 21 March 2012 19:16
Organization’s plan for single-family homes off Park Street gets OK from Design Review Board
A proposal by Habitat for Humanity Lakeside to build three single-family homes on a triangular shaped property between Park Street and Moore Road in Port Washington was approved by the city’s Design Review Board Monday.
A 12-foot-wide cul-de-sac would connect the property, which is largely hidden, to Park Street, said John Orth, Habitat’s construction manager.
“This would be a three-year project,” Orth told the board. “We only have enough to start one house this year, but we think we can raise enough funds to do one house a year
“As soon as we get the OK, we will start building the road and grading the property. The earliest we would start construction would probably be June.”
Several trees will have to be removed to make room for the houses, which would be about 1,300 square feet, he said.
The houses would each have three or four bedrooms and 1-1/2 bathrooms, and an attached one-car garage.
The bluff will be maintained, Orth said, noting that it is a steep incline.
In the long term, he said, Habitat may consider building a ranch-style house on a flat portion of the property, depending on what happens with a gas main that runs on an easement across the property.
Members of the Design Review Board were pleased with the plan.
“I think it’s a really nice looking design,” said Chairman Rob Vanden Noven.
However, he asked why the design for each of the houses is the same.
Habitat will save money by using the same design for each of the homes, Orth said, and can better reproduce the design each time it builds the house.
Minor detailing on the houses will vary to give each structure its own identity, he added.
Plans for the development will now be reviewed by the city’s Plan Commission on Tuesday, March 27.
Habitat has an accepted offer to purchase the almost one-acre parcel for $44,000 from the Schanen Estate, Orth said.
The land is along the bluff behind the Habitat’s first house in Port Washington. That home was built in 2002 for Jeff and Kandy Bichler.
Habitat expects to choose the family for its first house on this parcel by May or June, Orth said.
The families must have children and be in unaffordable or unsafe housing, have good credit and be able to repay a mortgage to Habitat, he said.
The organization has built houses for seven families, all in Port Washington, and no one has defaulted on their mortgages, Orth said. Monthly payments, including taxes, average $500, Orth said.
“That’s why we want three houses. The value of the land can be split between three homeowners so the taxes are affordable,” he said.
Lakeside Development of Mequon is designing the project.
The Port project is possible because Habitat sold a 3,600-square-foot house in Erin for $375,000, realizing a $60,000 profit. The house had been donated to Habitat.
Habitat was offered a second house donation, an older house in Mequon that was being renovated and enlarged when the two sisters who owned it died.
The 4,000-square-foot unfinished house could not be moved. The new owner decided to tear it down and build a smaller one. He told Orth that Habitat could take whatever it wanted before the wrecking ball struck it.
“We removed all the interior walls, trim, duct work, furnaces, air conditioners and light fixtures that we will use in the Habitat houses,” Orth said.
“We have enough 2-by-4s to build one house and recessed light fixtures for one house, so the first house won’t cost as much.”
Salvaged items sold on Craig’s List raised $12,000 for Habitat, Orth said.
Habitat expected its next project would be in Grafton, where it owns land, but Orth said village officials raised concerns each time they proposed building three single-family or duplex condos on the property.
If Habitat were able to purchase land in another community in the coming years, there is a possibility the Port project could take more than three years to complete, Habitat president Alan Schupp said Monday.