Written by BILL SCHANEN IV
Wednesday, 31 October 2012 18:12
PW-S spending plan for 2012-13 includes funding for energy-cost saving initiative
The Port Washington-Saukville School Board on Monday approved a revised 1012-13 budget that, despite being thrown a last-minute curve by a decrease in state aid, comes close to the district’s goal of a flat tax levy.
The spending plan, which includes funding for a roughly $2 million energy efficiency capital improvement initiative, results in a $14.2 million property tax levy — a .35% increase of $49,378 — that was also approved by the board.
The resulting tax rate of $9.71 per $1,000 of property value is a 34-cent (3.6%) increase from last school year, one that is due in part to an average 3.2% decrease in equalized property values in the school district.
On average, the owner of a $175,000 property would pay an additional $5.74 in school taxes, but how the rate affects taxpayers depends on how much property values decreased in their city, town or village.
While all five taxing entities in the school district lost property value, some lost more than others. Residents of communities that suffered the largest decreases in value are expected to see their school taxes decrease, while those who live in areas that had less of a decrease should see a tax hike.
For instance, equalized property values in the City of Port Washington decreased by about the average, so the owner of a $175,000 property can expect to pay $6.11 more in school taxes this year, according to school district figures.
The Village of Saukville had the smallest property value decrease, so village residents who live in the Port Washington-Saukville School District can expect to see the largest increase on their tax bills — $22.47 for a $175,000 property, according to district calculations.
Portions of the towns of Grafton, Saukville and Port Washington all experienced larger than average decreases in property value, which means school tax bills will decrease slightly in these areas.
In June, the School Board approved a budget that school officials thought anticipated key variables such as state aid and changes in property values. But last month, administrators were surprised by state aid calculations that showed the district, like the majority of school systems in Wisconsin, will receive less funding this year.
“We thought there could be a slight adjustment, but a decrease of this amount was definitely not anticipated,” Supt. Michael Weber said. “The loss of $180,000 is not as significant as what some other districts experienced, but it’s still quite significant.
“And we still do not have a sound explanation for why two-thirds of the districts in the state are receiving less aid.”
The decrease in state aid continues a recent trend in which local property taxes, as opposed to state aid, fund a greater share of education costs in the district. Until last school year, it was the state that bore that burden. This school year, local property taxes constitute 48% of the district operating revenue while state sources account for 44.7%. A number of other smaller funding sources make up the difference.
The loss of state aid could have been a larger problem had the school district financial outlook not been so positive.
For the first time in many years, the district began this year’s budget process without a proposed deficit. In addition, it retired its referendum debt last school year, taking the burden of a $473,429 annual payment off the tax levy.
The district also ended last school year with a budget surplus of $795,000, which was invested in fund equity. Fund equity is essentially the district’s savings account.
That set the stage for what administrators said was a unique opportunity — a capital improvement initiative designed to improve energy efficiency in buildings throughout the district.
Normally, school districts must win voter approval in a referendum to borrow more than $1 million, but the Port Washington-Saukville School Board used an exemption that allows boards to authorize borrowing in excess of $1 million for projects that improve energy efficiency.
The board on Monday approved a resolution that allows the district to increase its revenue limit to pay for the projects. It has authorized the borrowing of no more than $2.27 million.
To soften the impact of the debt on the levy, the board decided to apply $400,000 — half of last year’s budget surplus — from fund equity to the project.
This year’s payment on the 10-year loan is expected to be less than $200,000, which administrators point out is less than half of what the annual payment on the referendum debt was.
The energy-efficiency projects include replacing existing lighting with LED fixtures and bulbs, weatherizing buildings, installing water conservation devices and vending machine energy controls, upgrading air-handling controls and recommissioning ventilation systems throughout the district. The project also includes the replacement of heating systems at Dunwiddie and Saukville elementary schools.
The district’s performance contractor, McKinstry, estimates a $214,000 savings in energy and operational costs and potential incentives worth $41,548, for about a 10-year payback on the project.
“We’re very pleased that this budget allowed us a unique opportunity to address energy efficiency in our buildings,” Weber said. “The whole dynamic of the events surrounding this budget were very unusual, but we were able to take advantage of them to benefit our district.”
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 24 October 2012 19:24
Organizers of Hales Trail site consider adding hive to help pollinate crops, give apiarists hands-on training
A proposal to place a beehive at the Hales Trail Community Garden in Port Washington is being considered by organizers.
Bethel Metz said the possibility is one she has been discussing with Derek Strohl, who led the campaign to create the garden.
“It’s natural. One goes hand-in-hand with the other,” she said. “You can’t have a garden or produce without bees, and you can’t have bees without food.”
Many community gardens throughout the country are homes to beehives, and they are operated without problems, Metz said.
“We have a lot of people interested in how this works,” she said. “Our community now is very aware of urban beekeeping, and this is one way of continuing that conversation.”
Metz, who said the proposal is only in the discussion stages, said she and her husband wouldn’t relocate the hive at their house but instead place a new one at the garden.
She and her husband would care for the hive, Metz said, adding that if other people are interested in caring for bees, the hive could be used for hands-on training.
“There are people who want to learn a lot more about it,” she said.
Strohl said he has discussed the concept with a number of gardeners at the community garden, and they were supportive of the idea.
Allowing bees would be mutually beneficial, he said, noting the insects would help pollinate the crops grown there.
However, Strohl said, the bees wouldn’t spend all their time in the garden, noting they travel miles to obtain nectar.
“People wholeheartedly support having the bees as long as we inform the gardeners,” Strohl said, adding the garden’s license with the city would have to be amended to allow the hive. “We all know having the bees would be a great service for the gardens.”
The garden would also need to get approval from neighboring property owners before a hive could be placed there, he said.
Strohl said he expects to review the concept with the Port Parks and Recreation Board in the coming months to see if it is possible.
“We’re in the early stages of this,” Metz said. “By no means is this something we expect to happen.”
Strohl said the garden exceeded all expectations in its inaugural year.
“I’m thrilled. It was just lush,” he said. “I’m amazed at the quality and quantity of produce that came out of that soil. We didn’t put anything into it.”
Some gardeners are amending the soil now, using manure brought to the site this summer by an area farmer, he said. Gardeners have until Dec. 31 to reserve their plots for next year.
“I anticipate we’ll have a pretty high renewal rate,” he said. “It was such a good feeling to see the community garden work, to see gardeners share their knowledge with each other and come together.”
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 17 October 2012 18:21
Proposals for lakefront land offered at meeting include kite festival, ski area, planetarium, museum and more
Ideas as disparate as a kite festival, cross-county ski area, a planetarium and a shipwreck museum were suggested for Port Washington’s coal dock during a public information meeting Tuesday.
About a dozen people attended the meeting to hear about infrastructure that is being constructed on the dock and to propose ideas for uses of the park.
“We’re looking for ideas, either for specific events or permanent improvements,” Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven said, noting that many of the uses included in a 2009 master plan are concepts.
Port Washington Tourism Director Kathy Tank, a member of the Coal Dock Committee, cited a proposed community center on the coal dock.
“At the time, we envisioned the historical society museum to be out there,” she said. “Now, they have a home in downtown. We need to look at that.”
Dan Micha suggested the city create a planetarium on the dock, noting there is no such structure nearby.
“I’m thinking about a draw,” he said. “We can enjoy this as a community year-round. There’s no reason a 9 or 10-year-old can’t go there and get excited and learn.”
The city should approach We Energies’ foundation to seek funding for the proposed community center on the dock, Micha added.
“Approach them, get the check and get it done,” he said.
John Sigwart asked whether the city had considered building a structure that could create revenue for the community, particularly on that portion of the dock that isn’t governed by the state’s public trust doctrine. That document requires the dock, most of which is filled lakebed, to be used for public purposes, not private ones.
That’s unlikely since the city is leasing the dock from We Energies, said Vanden Noven, noting that the utility is not interested in allowing the city to do that.
One man asked how realistic it is to think the city could become headquarters for a proposed shipwreck sanctuary by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with a flagship building on the coal dock.
When the sanctuary was proposed in 2010, NOAA officials stressed that its creation would take a long time and was in the early stages.
Today, creation of the sanctuary is stalled at the federal level, Tank said.
“If they ever move it off center, we’re in the running,” she said. “Stalled doesn’t mean dead.”
But with federal budget struggles looming, the immediate prospects aren’t good, she said.
Bill Moran suggested the city consider holding a kite festival on the dock, noting the lack of power lines and the lake winds would make it an ideal location.
“I want to go out there and fly a kite with my granddaughter,” he said.
Several people spoke to the need to have portable toilets available on the dock, at least until the proposed community building is constructed.
The coal dock park, which was approved in concept in an agreement between We Energies and the city in 2001, is envisioned as a four-season park that will both the community and attract regional visitors.
The south dock, which will be connected to the north dock by a pedestrian bridge, is home to a bird sanctuary and a pedestrian pathway that leads to the south beach.
But the 17-acre north dock holds infinite promise for the city, Vanden Noven said.
The city is currently building a 1,000-foot-long promenade along the north side of the dock, an entry drive, parking, east-side boardwalk and docking spaces for tall ships and other large vessels.
The former crane rail, which runs near the promenade, will be overlaid with concrete to create a bench. Wooden benches will also be installed every 100 feet.
A World War II memorial has already been approved for the site. It will be built on the southeast corner of the dock.
At Tuesday’s Common Council meeting, Ald. Jim Vollmar said the city should reconsider its decision not to install a railing along the promenade, saying there needs to be a barrier to keep people from falling into the lake.
“That whole area is going to be open,” Vollmar said, adding that ladders the city installed to help anyone who falls get back onto land aren’t adequate.
Vanden Noven, who noted that the Coal Dock Committee had not expressed any concerns about the lack of fencing, said it’s common not to have a railing in areas where large ships moor because it gives maximum flexibility in docking these boats.
The promenade is 18-1/2-feet wide, giving people plenty of room to walk, he added.
“In summertime, we have hundreds of people navigating the breakwater, which is much narrower, without falling in,” Vanden Noven said. “It hasn’t been an issue.”
The issue will be placed on the next Coal Dock Committee agenda for discussion, he added.
Mayor Tom Mlada said he expects Tuesday’s public informational meeting will be the first in a series of community forums on the coal dock, noting the community needs to help determine the uses for what will be a showpiece park for the city.
“I certainly don’t view that one meeting as the be all and end all,” Mlada said. “My hope is we get people to understand they can still play a role in determining what we need that coal dock to be.”
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 17 October 2012 18:11
Port commission, council approve plan for WWII tribute without input from Parks and Recreation Board
With few comments, Port Washington aldermen and Plan Commission members last week gave final approval to the construction of a World War II memorial on the coal dock.
But members of the Parks and Recreation Board, who met the same night, criticized the fact that the Common Council approved the project without any input from them.
“It’s insulting,” Board President Lori MacRae said. “I’m really ticked off.
“I think it’s kind of a neat thing, but we should have been consulted.”
Board member Mary Ann Klotz concurred, saying other people are required to appear before the panel for its recommendation if they want to do something in a city park.
“I think it’s an insult to Derek Strohl, who had to come here 50 times for a community garden and Joe Dean (the alderman who proposed the war memorial) can completely bypass us,” she said.
“It wasn’t done right. It’s a park. It should have come here first so we could give a recommendation to the council.”
MacRae said she thought Veterans Memorial Park might have been a better location for the memorial than a new, showpiece city park, a suggestion that board member Bryan Deal disagreed with.
“The location is key,” he said, noting that a reflection pond and water are important to the World War Memorial in Washington, D.C.
“The water there helps make the memorial,” Deal said. “It’s not the same without the water.”
MacRae replied, “I appreciate your saying that, but I would have appreciated having that discussion here.”
After all, she said, the Parks and Recreation Department is responsible for all the city parks.
Parks and Recreation Director Charlie Imig noted that both he and board member Ron Voigt are members of the Coal Dock Committee, which gave approval to the plan to construct a replica of the Wisconsin pillar at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., on the coal dock.
Aldermen may have felt they expressed the board’s views, Imig said.
Mayor Tom Mlada said Tuesday that he understood the board’s concerns, but said there are mitigating circumstances — namely the need to get the project under way because of the number of World War II veterans dying each day and the hope they will be able to see the memorial before they die.
He noted that Voigt is the Parks and Recreation board representative on the Plan Commission and had a say in the project.
The memorial, which will be built by the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight, will be placed on the southeast side of the coal dock.
It will consist of the replica pillar, which will be about 17 feet high and 4 feet wide, with a pathway of engraved bricks leading to it and three flagpoles. The Stars and Stripes Honor Flight will sell the bricks to pay for the project.
A sign will also be erected at the site containing a replica of the stars found on the Freedom Wall at the national World War II monument. The star, which memorializes those killed in the war, will be placed so that the pillar shadows it at 11:11 a.m. on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, he said.
Both the Plan Commission, which recommended approval of the monument, and the Common Council, met in special sessions Oct. 11 to vote on the project.
Special meetings were held so that work on the memorial could begin immediately to ensure the project is completed by Veterans Day. A dedication is planned for Friday, Nov. 9.