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Port Washington

State aid cut may throw wrench into PW-S budget PDF Print E-mail
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV   
Wednesday, 08 July 2015 19:07

DPI estimate indicates district will receive $787,634 reduction for next school year

    The Port Washington-Saukville School District could receive $787,634 less in general state school aid next school year, according to estimates released by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction last week.

    A surprise to school officials who had conservatively estimated that aid would  remain flat, a 5.8% decrease in state funding promises to throw a wrench into a proposed budget that already calls for $350,000 in spending cuts and a triple-digit increase in school tax bills to begin paying for $49.4 million in school improvements approved by voters in April.

    “We’re being very cautious in reacting to this,” Supt. Michael Weber said. “We don’t want to overreact. We want to study this thoroughly first.”

    The Port-Saukville District is in the majority  — 55% — of Wisconsin school systems that are expected to receive less general state aid in the 2015-16 school year, according to the DPI.

    But among Ozaukee County districts, the Port-Saukville School District, which receives the most general state aid in the county, stands to lose the most.

    The Cedar Grove-Belgium and Northern Ozaukee districts are expected to receive more state aid, 2.4% and 10%, respectively, although it’s the Grafton School District that is expected to see the largest increase — 18%, or $960,000.

    Since revenue limits are not changing, the most likely result of the increase in general school aid is a tax decrease, Grafton School Supt. Mel Lightner said.

    “It’s very preliminary, but right now it’s great news for our taxpayers,” he said. “Let’s hope the numbers stay in place this fall.”

    State aid payments will be finalized on Oct. 15.

    The Cedarburg and Mequon-Thiensville school systems are expected to receive less aid, 1.6% and 1.5%, respectively, although those districts receive considerably less aid than the Port-Saukville District, so the impact would not be nearly as a significant.

    The proposed 2015-17 state budget would maintain general state aid at $4.48 billion, although actual aid payments would total only $4.35 billion because of reductions for the Milwaukee voucher program and charter schools, according to the DPI.

    But what’s important for individual districts is how that money is divided among the state’s 424 school districts, which is determined by a complex formula based in part on enrollment, property value and school spending.

    Port Washington-Saukville administrators suspect that in addition to a slight dip in enrollment, the aid decrease is being triggered by an increase in property values. That would give the district a higher property value-per-pupil ratio, thus making it eligible for less state general aid.

    Last year, the district received $13.5 million in general state aid, double the amount received by any other district in the county except Cedarburg, which received $8.5 million. Grafton, which is often considered comparable to the Port-Saukville District, received $5.2 million in aid last year, probably due in large part to its higher property values.

    Grafton School District officials attribute the projected increase in state aid, in part, to the 4-year-old kindergarten program the district started in 2014.

    The program, which enters its second year this fall, is expected to have more than 100 students, bolstering overall enrollment  and skewing the cost-per-pupil state aid calculation in the district’s favor.

    “We knew that having 4-K would have a positive impact on the budget,” Director of Business Services Kristin Sobocinski said.

    “But our enrollment in other areas could go down, too. There are so may other pieces involved in state aid.”

    Ozaukee Press reporter Steve Ostermann contributed to this story.

Port survey says most residents want senior center PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 08 July 2015 18:56

Questionnaire that shows support for services in one building is discussed as city weighs facility’s future

   The vast majority of people responding to a survey intended to gauge the needs of the Port Washington Senior Center said that having one building dedicated to senior services is important — so important that 61% said they would be less likely to participate in programs if they were spread out to other facilities in the area.

    Those were among the survey findings discussed Tuesday during a meeting of the Senior Center’s Ad Hoc Strategic Planning Committee.

    The results of the survey, conducted by MSA Professional Services, will be used by the city to determine the future of the center. City officials do not plan to renew the lease for the current center at 403 W. Foster St., which runs through December 2016 and could be extended six months beyond that.

    Roughly 711 people completed the survey, and the results were predictably skewed toward people 55 and older, said Andrew Bremer, a planner with MSA Professional Services.

    In addition to simply answering the survey questions, Bremer noted, respondents provided more than 70 pages of comments about the center, its functions and needs.

    The major complaints listed about the current senior center building are the lack of parking and accessibility within the building, Bremer said.

    When asked to describe their ideal center, the majority of survey respondents said they wanted to see a community center with intergenerational interaction and activities, he said.

    Not only did respondents rate having a central dedicated senior center as important, Bremer said, many rated the services as good or excellent.

    More than 57% said they would support an increase in the current membership fees to offset a portion of the cost of operating and renting a senior center, Bremer said.

    Currently, the center charges $17 per person or $22 per couple annually for Port residents to join the center. Non-residents pay $37 and $64, respectively.

    Most of those responding said they take part in services provided at places outside the senior center, most notably at the YMCA, other senior centers, library and through the parks and recreation program.

    Respondents were almost evenly split when asked if they would support increasing property taxes to offset the cost of building a new senior center.

    The idea of funding a community center received a little more support.

    When asked how much they might be willing to contribute to a fundraiser for a new center, more than half those responding said they would contribute between $1 and $100.

    Of the respondents who don’t use the senior center, most said they are not old enough, are working full-time or just don’t have the time, he said. A few, however, said they didn’t know there was a center, Bremer said.

    Senior Center director Catherine Kiener said last year, an average of 62 people used the center every day. There were more than 18,000 visits last year, she added.

    Those attending the meeting had a variety of suggestions for a new center, including the vacant EVS auto dealership on South Spring Street and the former office buildings at Simplicity Manufacturing on North Spring Street, as well as land on the Harbor Campus site and property owned by the Port Washington-Saukville School District.

    Although the city has been looking into the idea of holding senior center activities at a variety of existing buildings, that’s not an option survey respondents or those at the meeting favored.

    “I think having a building provides a safe place for older people,” said Edie Webb, a member of the ad hoc committee and the city’s commission on aging.

    One woman noted that when activities are held in a number of places, seniors need to travel between them, something that can be costly and difficult for older adults.

    “If you’re living on a couple hundred dollars of disposable income a month, that’s hard,” she said.

    It would also increase the cost of staffing, said Sue Bruner, a member of the city’s Commission on Aging.

    Providing programs at different places also makes it more difficult for people to keep track of activities and makes those services less visible, another woman said.

    John Sigwart, a member of the ad hoc committee, said the idea of holding activities at the Feith Family Ozaukee YMCA in Saukville has been discussed, but many people have told them they feel that’s too far away.

    Tom Didier, a member of the YMCA Board, said that when the Feith Family center was built, there were plans to expand and create a senior center there.

    Didier, a real estate agent, also noted that building a new center on some of the sites suggested is likely cost prohibitive.

    “The price on the (EVS) building is well over $1 million,” he said. “To me, that sounds like a crazy idea.”

    Sigwart said he prefers a community center to just a senior center, saying it would allow for intergenerational activities that are important to people of all ages.

    “That’s a very large project,” Sigwart said. “If we want to do that as a community center, we have to start it.”

    The new center should incorporate unique facilities to draw people to it, one man said, citing a Sun City, Ariz., center that has a woodworking shop and model railroad club.

    This would work doubly well if the city builds a community center, he said, since the old and young can teach each other.

    “What we really need to think about is what our community is going to look like in 20 years,” one woman said. “What are our services going to look like? What are the needs of our seniors going to be?”

    MSA will now work to complete its report, which will be reviewed by the committee before being forwarded to the Common Council for consideration.

Controversial harbor land not as hot as Port officials hoped PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 July 2015 19:39

Only two developers interested in acquiring parking lot owned by city

Only two developers have indicated they want to obtain a Port Washington lakefront parking lot that city officials expected would generate far more interest when they made the controversial decision to sell the land earlier this year.

    One of the developers, Chris Long of Madison, unveiled plans in February to create a Paramount blues-themed entertainment complex on the property, which is off Washington Street and adjacent to the north slip.

    Long is scheduled to meet with Randy Tetzlaff, the city’s director of planning and development, on Thursday, July 2.

    The other developer has not yet scheduled a meeting — a mandatory step in acquiring the land — Tetzlaff said Tuesday.

    Port Washington officials agreed earlier this year to offer the parking lot to developers, saying they wanted to see a year-round destination created there to draw people to the downtown and lakefront.

    It was a controversial decision, with some residents arguing that the city should not sell lakefront land but retain it for public use.

    Officials noted that the city owns several miles of public lakefront and said development of this parcel could spur further redevelopment of the downtown.

    The city sent out a number of requests for proposals to developers and advertised the property in several publications.

    Although officials had hoped the parcel would attract a number of potential developers, it appears that only two may submit proposals.

    “Initially there was interest from several potential developers,” Tetzlaff said, but they  offered different reasons for not submitting proposals.

    Some said they were apprehensive because of the controversy over the potential sale and the media coverage of the issue, he said.

    Others noted they had other projects in the works or were too busy, Tetzlaff said, while some said the project was too small for them.

    Still others indicated that the positive reaction to Long’s proposal gave him the inside track, Tetzlaff said.

    City Administrator Mark Grams said he is a little surprised that so few developers are interested in the property.

    “I think in the end the size of the lot is a detriment to anyone,” he said. “At first, I thought we might get more. But the more I thought about it, I thought it might be wishful thinking that we would get a slew of people.”

    Mayor Tom Mlada said he, too, was surprised that there weren’t more offers.

    “But to me, the important thing shouldn’t be the quantity of the proposals but the quality,” he said. “I’m more interested in having a home-run proposal.”

    Developers are to submit their proposals for the parking lot land by Aug. 7. The city’s Community Development Authority will then review the proposals and make a recommendation to the Plan Commission, which would review the plans on Aug. 20.

    The Common Council would then be expected to review the plans and select the developer on Sept. 1.

    However, aldermen have said that if only one developer submits a proposal, the city will accelerate the process. That could mean making a recommendation to the Common Council in July.

    Long, whose plan calls for a Paramount Blues-themed museum, restaurant, performance space and banquet hall to be built on the property, has said he wants want to complete the development in 2017 to celebrate the centennial of the founding of Paramount Records.

Officials sharpen focus on PWHS upgrade options PDF Print E-mail
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV   
Wednesday, 24 June 2015 22:15

Administrators tour new, remodeled schools around state to learn what features local makeover could include

    Port Washington High School administrators and staff members are spending the summer doing their homework in preparation for the $45.6 million makeover of their school.

    On Monday, a contingent of 30 people toured new and recently remodeled schools throughout the state to get an idea of what features they want included in a like-new Port High, as well as what pitfalls to avoid.

    “We took a lot of the staff with us because it’s important for them to see what is being done in other schools. There was a lot of excitement and a lot of good ideas,” Principal Eric Burke said. “We saw a lot of things we like, but one of the key questions we had for people at these schools was what did you do that you don’t like.”

    Most notably, the group toured Sun Prairie High School, which was constructed about five years ago after voters passed a $96 million referendum, and Kromrey Middle School in Middleton, which like the proposed Port High project entailed demolishing and rebuilding parts of the school.

    Sun Prairie High School has a striking entryway and open-style cafeteria similar to what is envisioned for Port High, Burke told the school board’s Building and Grounds Committee Monday.

    The school was designed to maximize natural light with windows in every classroom.

    “That’s something we don’t have at Port High,” Burke said. “The use of natural light at both schools was really interesting.”

    He noted that classrooms at Kromrey Middle School have glass doors.

    From an academic standpoint, administrators and teachers were particularly interested in how both schools organized classrooms in pods with shared areas between them, which lend themselves to both collaborative and individual learning.

Breakwater work delayed until next year PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 17 June 2015 20:31

Port officials agree with Army Corps’ decision postponing repairs, giving city time to apply for additional grants

    There won’t be any work done on the Port Washington breakwater this summer.

    Although city officials had anticipated work on the steel cell portion of the breakwater would be done by the Army Corps of Engineers beginning in July, Mayor Tom Mlada told the Common Council Tuesday that this timeline has changed.

    Officials from the Corps have expressed concern that they may be unable to complete the work this year, leaving a portion of the project in limbo over the winter, Mlada said.

    “If it’s three-quarters done, there’s a feeling it may be worse than if nothing’s done,” he said.    

    That’s a real fear considering the Corps wasn’t slated to begin work until mid to late-July, and if weather delays any earlier projects their crews are working on, the Port project will be moved back, City Administrator Mark Grams said.

    “They (officials at the Corps’ Kewaunee office) feel more comfortable delaying it,” Grams said. “I think in the long run, that’s probably the best option.”

    By delaying the work, Corps officials have told the city they may be able to realize some efficiencies in the work, Mlada said.

    “There are no concerns we’re going to have any overruns,” he added.

    Grams said the city may also get a better project with the delay.

    Extending the project into next year would allow the city to apply for additional grant funds to pay for the work, Mlada said.

    “This gives us another grant cycle to seek more dollars,” he said. “The longer the Corps money is out there the longer we can leverage it.”

    The city has also checked to ensure a delay won’t cause it to lose any of the grant money it has already received, Mlada said.

    In May, the council agreed to spend as much as $280,000 of city money to pay for the $1 million in work that was to be done this year by the Army Corps.

    The remainder of the funding, $720,000, is being funded through grants.

    Grams noted that the delay will allow the city to apply for harbor assistance funds from the Department of Transportation — a program the city qualifies for because it will host the tall ship Denis Sullivan several times this summer.

    City officials have talked to DOT officials administering the program and been told the project is a good fit, Grams said, adding they were urged to apply for the funds.

    There is one other benefit to delaying the project, Mlada said.

    The original schedule would have closed the breakwater much of the summer — peak tourist season, he said.

    If the work is done next year, Corps officials have said construction could begin in May and the breakwater could be open in July, he said.

    Corps officials have assured the city that the structure is sound enough to make it through the winter relatively unscathed, Mlada added.

    “The one variable is that you’re leaving it the way it is over winter. Clearly there’s an impact,” he said. “They feel it’s stable.

    “We’ll hope and pray this winter won’t be too bad.”

    The failing condition of the breakwater has become a major concern of the city in recent years.

    Last year, the Army Corps allocated $1 million to the project — funds that were to be spent replacing the cap, or walkway. However, city officials asked that the money instead be spent replacing armor stone to protect the breakwater from strong lake waves.

    In return, the city agreed to finance the repairs to the cap this year.

    The armor stone has helped significantly over the winter, but the cap atop the structure is falling apart and allowing water inside, where it is destroying the breakwater from the inside out, officials said.

    The Army Corps work this year would have replaced the cap in the steel cell portion of the structure.

    City officials are also working on plans to improve the entry to the breakwater as well as the far east side, near the lighthouse.

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