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Port Washington

District turns to budget, not ballot, for maintenance PDF Print E-mail
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV   
Wednesday, 05 July 2017 18:11

PW-S school officials tap line item created after failed 2002 referendum to pay for building repairs

    The Port Washington-Saukville School Board’s Building and Grounds Committee took a break last week from overseeing the $45.6 million high school project to approve $200,000 in maintenance projects for the 2017-18 school year.
    The building maintenance fund that will be tapped to pay for the projects has nothing to do with the $49.4 million referendum approved by voters in 2015 but owes its existence to a failed 2002 referendum.
    In April of that year, voters rejected a district request to borrow $3.9 million for building maintenance and remodeling, as well as a plan to spend $2.3 million on technology.    
    Not long after that, Supt. Michael Weber announced a plan to create a $200,000 annual budget line item so the district would not have to rely on referendum borrowing to pay for routine maintenance.
    “We heard loud and clear from the community that we need to create a budget line item for general maintenance,” Weber said.
    It took a number of years, but the district reached that goal and since then has budgeted roughly $200,000 annually to maintain its facilities.
    “This is why we have gotten the life out of our buildings that we have,” board member Brenda Fritsch said.
    For the 2017-18 school year, the district has earmarked $38,000 for electronic message boards at its three elementary schools.
    “That money won’t cover the entire cost of the signs, so we’re working with our parent groups,” Director of Business Services Jim Froemming said.
    Among the other expenditures planned for next school year are $45,000 to repair the tennis courts at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, $20,000 to repair parking lots, sidewalks, doors and roofs and $15,000 to purchase a riding floor scrubber.
    During the 2016-17 school year, the district spent $223,000 from the maintenance fund for a number of projects, including $70,000 to replaster the swimming pool at the middle school.
    “It’s a 30-year-old pool,” Froemming said. “Usually when you fix one crack, another crack forms. You just hope it’s a smaller crack than the first one.”
    Other expenditures included $40,000 to purchase a 10-passenger van and minivan, $40,000 to replace the fire alarm system at Dunwiddie Elementary School, $25,000 to replace urinals at Lincoln Elementary School and $20,000 to renovate the district office.
    The maintenance fund has served its purpose well, but with increasing maintenance costs the district may have to rethink how much money it sets aside to take care of its buildings, Weber said.
    “At some point, we may need to discuss another plan to get the amount a little higher than $200,000,” he said.

Council paves way for sale of city properties PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 28 June 2017 19:38

Light Station to be transferred to Historical Society, Grant Street land used for soccer may be sold for homes

    Three city-owned properties, including the historic Light Station, were designated as surplus by the Port Washington Common Council earlier this month — a declaration that paves the way for the city to sell them.
    Two lots along Grant Street are proposed for residential developments — something a neighboring resident urged the council to be cautious of — while the city has said it intends to sell the Light Station to the Port Washington Historical Society, which has been operating it since the 1990s.
    City Administrator Mark Grams said the city has been working with the Historical Society on that transfer.
    “For all intents and purposes, the Historical Society maintains it,” Grams noted.
    When the Coast Guard divested itself of the Light Station property, the city agreed to acquire the facility because the federal government wouldn’t transfer ownership to a nonprofit organization, he said.
    Since then, the city has leased the property to the Historical Society, which raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and established partnerships to transform the former lighthouse into “a first class historic restoration that provides for a recreated interior of the living quarters and outbuildings,” Randy Tetzlaff, the city planner, said in a memo.
    “After 20 years, the society has proven itself to be an excellent steward of the Light Station and it is now time for the city to divest its ownership,” he added.
    Aldermen agreed, throwing their weight behind the idea of selling the property to the Historical Society.
    Any such transfer will require approval from the National Park Service, Tetzlaff said.
    Aldermen also agreed to declare two parcels on Grant Street surplus, noting eight lots could be carved from these properties — a move that drew concern from one neighboring property owner.
    “That’s a lot of lots,” Kristopher Knous, 935 N. Grant St., told aldermen. “It could quickly change the dynamic of our neighborhood.”
    He asked what type of development the city would consider there — single-family homes, duplexes or multifamily housing — and told officials that the lot on the east side of Grant Street is used by area soccer teams.
    “It sounds like it’s thought of as completely unused fields,” Knous said. “It is actually used quite a bit.”
    That land on the east side of Grant Street was platted for four lots in the 1970s, Tetzlaff said, but because of the shallow sanitary sewer depth, they were deemed unbuildable.
    That led the developer to sell the property to the city in 1996.
    However, he noted, someone notified the city last week that rubble had been buried on the property years ago.
    The same situation may be in place on the properties west of Grant Street, which served as an unimproved access to the former city landfill, Tetzlaff said.
    “I think we need to do some due diligence” to determine if rubble is on the site before the land is put up for sale, Tetzlaff said.
    Ald. John Sigwart voted against declaring the lots on the west side of the street surplus, saying that removing the rubble could destroy the property.
    “It’ll be completely denuded by the time you get the rubble out of there,” Sigwart said.
    But Ald. Dave Larson said that the declaration of surplus lands doesn’t obligate the city to sell the properties.
    The city should look into the rubble issue, then determine whether it’s appropriate to sell the land, Larson said.
    “If we don’t, we don’t,” he said.
    The west-side property could likely be subdivided into four lots as well, Tetzlaff noted.
    Tetzlaff said it is estimated that the cost of extending utilities to the properties would be $70,000.
    Each lot on the east side of Grant Street could likely sell for $65,000 to $75,000, he noted, while those on the west side could be valued at $80,000 or more each.

New survey map a sign of life for Cedar Vineyard PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 21 June 2017 20:01

Port panel OKs CSM, clearing way for subdivision, perserve land purchase

    The Port Washington Plan Commission last week approved a revised certified survey map for the proposed Cedar Vineyard subdivision on Port’s southeast side — the first indication in months that the project is ready to move forward.
    It’s the last action the city needs to take before he can close on the purchase of the property, developer Tom Swarthout said.
    “We are at the conclusion of this process,” Swarthout told the commission June 15, adding he expected to complete the purchase of the property in the next two to three weeks.
    The revised site plan approved last week shows the property is 234 acres — more than the 227 acres originally specified. The difference, Swarthout said, is due to the changing lake levels.
    Immediately after Swarthout purchases the property from Waukesha State Bank, he will sell 101 acres of the most environmentally sensitive land, including Cedar Gorge, which Swarthout called the “gem” of the property, to the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust — a purchase being funded through a $1 million stewardship grant from the Department of Natural Resources and $1 million from the Wisconsin Coastal Management’s coastal estuarine land conservation program.
    The 101 acres will then be transferred to Ozaukee County, which will maintain it in perpetuity.
    Swarthout, president of the Highview Group Ltd., plans to create 82 half-acre lots on the land, with a vineyard planned along Highway C and a winery on the west side of Highway C south of Stonecroft Drive.  
    Public trails along the bluff and access to the beach below are part of the proposal.
    Prospective homeowners — including Swarthout himself — have already reserved a dozen lots in the subdivision, he said.
    It’s a far cry from the intense development once envisioned for the property by VK Development.
    Swarthout said he hopes to begin work on the subdivision this year, noting he has 6,500 grapevines in refrigerated storage waiting to be planted on eight acres on the northern end of the property.
    The area will have to be graded before the vines can be planted, he noted.
    Swarthout said he also hopes to begin work on the winery, which will be built using pieces of several old barns the company has acquired, later this year, with an eye toward opening the facility in spring.
    The winery and vineyard will be run by Steve and Maria Johnson, who own Parallel 44 Vineyard and Winery in Kewaunee and Door 44 Winery in Sturgeon Bay.
    Swarthout said that while he is excited about Cedar Vineyard, he is also excited and supportive of the Prairie’s Edge subdivision planned for 44 acres just north of his project.
    “We’re completely supportive of the project to our north,” he said. “We’re really enthused about being here.”
    Mayor Tom Mlada, chairman of the Plan Commission, said he is excited about Cedar Vineyard, noting it is not just “an incredible development” because of the housing but also because of the lakefront access and environmental protections involved.
    Andrew Struck, Ozaukee County’s director of planning and parks, acknowledged that the process has been a long one, but noted that other similar purchases such as Lions Den Gorge Nature Preserve in the Town of Grafton have also taken some time — in part because of the review process for the grant money.
    “It does feel like it’s gone on for a long time,” he said. “When it’s a big acquisition and you have a number of partners, it does take a long time. It’s just the nature of the partnership.”

Rate surprise shaves year off borrowing plan PDF Print E-mail
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV   
Wednesday, 14 June 2017 18:31

PW-S School District sells bonds at ‘amazing’ 2.97% interest rate to help finance school improvements

    Shortly after Port Washington-Saukville School District voters approved a $49.4 million referendum in April 2015, school officials worked quickly to borrow the majority of that money at an interest rate of 3.2%, believing that interest rates would not get any lower.
    They were happy this week to be wrong.
    On Monday, the district paved the way for the second round of referendum borrowing by selling $8.65 million of municipal bonds at 2.97%, an interest rate that will have a significant impact on its referendum debt payment schedule.
    “That’s pretty darn amazing,” Jim Froemming, the district’s director of business services, told the School Board, which approved the sale.
    Brian Brewer, a managing director for Baird who is advising the district, agreed that an interest rate below 3% was remarkable.
    “This is very good news for the district,” he said.
    Erring on the side of caution in 2015, Brewer initially projected an interest rate of 4.75% for the second phase of borrowing. He revised that estimate in May, calling for a rate of 3.6%.
    The rate of 2.97% means the district will pay about $8 million less in interest than initially anticipated over the duration of the total referendum debt and will shorten the repayment schedule by a year — from 25 to 24 years, Froemming said.
    The district received six bids for the bonds with interest rates that ranged from 3.38% to 2.97%, which was offered by Janney Montgomery Scott LLC.
    That there were six competitive bids, Brewer said, is credit to the district’s AA Standard and Poor’s bond rating.
    Timing was also a factor in securing the low interest rate, Froemming noted.
    “According to the economic news today, we could see a rate increase as early as Wednesday of this week,” he said Tuesday. “Who knows, we may have hit the low.”
    Because the term of any single bond issue cannot exceed 20 years, the district is borrowing the $49.4 million approved by voters in three separate bond issues, which allows it to finance the total referendum debt over 24 years to reduce the annual impact on taxpayers.
    In addition to the $33 million borrowed in 2015 and the $8.65 million approved by the board his week, the district plans to sell $7.75 million in bonds early next year.
    Of the $49.4 million being borrowed, $3.8 million paid for an addition to Dunwiddie Elementary School completed in December and $45.6 million is being spent on the ongoing renovation and reconstruction of Port Washington High School.

Chief calls on council to fund new firehouse PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 07 June 2017 17:54

Mitchell says second station needed but Port officials make no promises

    Port Washington Fire Chief Mark Mitchell on Tuesday made another pitch for a second fire station, telling the Common Council it’s vital for public safety.
    “I think that the city isn’t doing right by many of its residents by continuing to have the Fire Department respond from one location,” Mitchell told aldermen.
    “A well-established infrastructure should be in place as more and more developments are being built out or being planned for, and a second fire station should be an important part of that infrastructure.”
    Mitchell, who was backed at the meeting by the Police and Fire Commission and about a dozen firefighters, has been actively advocating for a new fire station for years.
    The commission has also sought funding for a $13,500 feasibility study and space needs analysis for a second firehouse for the last three years.
    Aldermen placed that amount in the city’s contingency fund last year, but City Administrator Mark Grams said a decision on whether to move ahead with the study or instead look at what could be done at the current firehouse will be made later this year.
    Aldermen offered little feedback after Mitchell’s presentation, which also touched on personnel and equipment needs.
    Ald. Doug Biggs noted that the “back of napkin” estimated cost of a new firehouse and equipment replacement over the next five years totals about $6 million.
    “These aren’t small numbers we’re talking about,” he said.
    The presentation is one of a series scheduled this year to provide a long-term look at the city’s needs and budget constraints.
    There is no more important service a city can provide than  public safety, Mitchell said, and a new station is important to that mission.
    The current firehouse, which was built in 1968 and expanded in 1995, isn’t adequate any longer, he said, showing aldermen photos of equipment parked within inches of walls and virtually end-to-end in order to fit within the building.
    The building doesn’t have facilities for women, he said, noting nine of the department’s 56 members are female and two more have applied to become members.
    And it doesn’t have facilities for the many paramedics and EMTs who sometimes sleep at the station to ensure adequate coverage, Mitchell said.
    A new station would become the department headquarters, Mitchell said,  adding the existing firehouse would not be shuttered. Instead, the department would split its equipment between the two facilities so coverage would be equal.
    Mitchell’s comments were echoed by Captain Jim Langford, who said it’s not just the chief who sees the need.
    “From the firefighters’ perspective, we certainly need this as well,” he said.
    Mitchell pointed to a 2000 study by Ruekert & Mielke on the potential impact of the proposed Port Vincent development, which never materialized — that land is today earmarked for the Cedar Vineyard development — that noted the subdivision would nearly double the length of the fire protection service area.
    “We don’t have to wait for the Cedar Vineyards development to be built to see this factor,” Mitchell said, noting that parts of the Misty Ridge subdivision along Highway 32 are four miles from the existing fire station, producing the longest response times.
    Quick responses are vital, Mitchell said, noting that it’s important for firefighters to be able to attack a fire within 10 minutes to effectively limit the spread of a blaze and for EMTs to aid a patient in cardiac arrest within six to eight minutes before irreversible brain damage occurs.
    Mitchell said the new station should be located west of the railroad tracks, where much of the new development is occurring and where many of the firefighters live, and close to Highway LL.
    That, he said, would shorten response time for areas of the city that are three or more miles from the existing firehouse, potentially saving lives and property and provide needed space for equipment and personnel.
    Ald. John Sigwart suggested the former Schanen farm on the south side of Highway 33 across from the Hidden Hills subdivision as a potential site, and Ald. Mike Gasper noted that land at the intersection of highways 33 and LL owned by Ozaukee County and the State of Wisconsin could be other potential locations.
    Mitchell estimated the cost of a new station at between $3 million and $4 million.
    “The question has been ‘How do we pay for it?’” Mitchell said. “I don’t know, but other municipalities are finding the way with far less growth than we have.”
    One way to fund a station could be through impact fees on new development, he said, a tool used by other communities to repay debt incurred for facilities and equipment.
    In terms of staffing, Mitchell told aldermen that his department is currently not feeling the problem with recruitment faced by many other volunteer organizations.
    “That could change in the future,” he said, as firefighters retire or leave because of family situations.
    There are currently 56 firefighters in the department, and six new applicants are going through the system, he said.
    The department responded to 200 fire-related calls and 1,235 ambulance calls last year, he said, an increase of 101 calls from 2015. In 2006, he noted, the two services had only 843 calls.
    The ambulance service is self-sustaining, he said, with the fees paid by patients covering its operating expenses.

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