Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 19 November 2014 19:18
Anticipated decrease of $1 per $1,000 in valuation attributed to state aid hikes
Port Washington residents can expect to receive significantly smaller tax bills this year, City Administrator Mark Grams said Tuesday.
The overall tax rate should be about $1 less per $1,000 in assessed valuation, Grams told the Common Council.
The total tax levy — which includes funds not just for city operations but also the Port Washington-Saukville School District, Ozaukee County, technical school district and the state — will be $16 million, compared to $16.8 million last year, Grams said.
The tax rate needed to raise that levy will be $18.75 per $1,000, he said, $1.13 less than last year’s rate of $19.88.
Grams said he does not have the amount for the school tax credit, although he estimates it will be about the same as last year.
He also does not have the amounts for the lottery credit or first credit, but said those tend to remain stable.
“Overall, I would say we will see the tax rate go down about a buck per $1,000,” he said. “I think that’ll be the worst case. There’s no question people will see a reduction in the tax rate of at least $1.
“That’s good news. Everybody should be happy.”
The big reasons for the drop in the tax levy and rate, he said, are increased state aid for the Port-Saukville schools and the technical school district.
On Tuesday, the Port Common Council approved an $8.9 million budget for 2015 after a public hearing in which no one offered any comments on the spending plan.
The city’s tax levy of $4.9 million — also approved by aldermen — will require a tax rate of $5.79 per $1,000 assessed valuation, a decrease of two cents, Grams said.
The city’s recycling fee, which is a special assessment on the tax bill, will remain stable at $34, he said.
Sewer and water rates will also remain the same as last year, Grams said.
The city budget is largely a status quo spending plan, officials said, maintaining many city services while not offering many new initiatives.
Although officials are concerned about the state of the city’s roads, there are no major street projects planned in 2015. Instead, officials said, they will work to create a street repair plan and ways to finance it.
Another project not included in the 2015 spending plan is a study of the feasibility of a second fire station for the city.
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 12 November 2014 20:24
Downtown proposal that calls for lakefront development prompts residents to voice concerns at public hearing
Questions but few criticisms were offered by several dozen people attending a hearing on a redevelopment plan for downtown Port Washington last week before the document was accepted by the Common Council.
Most of the questions centered around plans for development near the lakefront, how they would affect the views of neighboring properties, draw business to the area and whether they would be sustainable.
“Have you looked at the rest of the neighborhood?” asked Pat Wilborn, 233 E. Pier St. “When you get something like that going, what happens to my house?”
Wilborn, who said he is pro-development, also asked whether the proposed uses would help attract residents and visitors to the lakefront throughout the year.
“Are you looking at development in view of reducing the death grip (of winter)?” he asked. “How are we going to bring people into Port in January and February?”
The plans for the lakefront, officials said, were developed to minimize the effect on views but they will alter some.
“It’s hard to protect views,” said Jason Wittek, a member of the city’s Community Development Authority, which commissioned the plan.
The plan, which calls for the parking lot on Washington Street just north of the north slip portion of the marina to be developed into a restaurant or brewpub, also calls for most of the east side of the building to be transparent, with large windows on several sides, officials noted.
Bringing in a business like a brewpub — suggested by many of the roughly 90 people who attended a brainstorming session for the redevelopment plan — will create a year-round destination that will help make the plan sustainable, officials said.
Other lakefront developments in the plan include creating a banquet hall with a community center at the former grocery store in the Port Harbor Center and a residential building to be constructed on land across Washington Street where Victor’s restaurant is currently located. The parking lot east of Victor’s would be shifted to the east, closing a portion of Lake Street.
A grand entrance to the marina would be created on Washington Street east of Harborview Lane, and this could be reconfigured to provide better pedestrian access to the harborwalk and the north breakwater as improvements are made there. The marina parking lot would also be reconfigured to accommodate the nearby developments as well as boat owners.
Mary Ann Voigt, a co-owner of the Port Harbor Center near the parking lot, asked where customers of the new business would park.
“The marina is only used so much of the time,” Ald. Mike Ehrlich, a member of the CDA, said. “Why not double up on its use?”
Don Voigt, another owner of the Harbor Center, asked if the city could bring more green space to the lakefront and downtown in general, saying it would help draw visitors.
There would be green space on the east and south sides of the proposed brew pub lot, Ehrlich said, and there are ways to incorporate additional green space in the reworked marina parking lot.
“The more green we can make our marina area, the better,” he said.
The plan also recommends two residential buildings, one facing Washington Street and the other facing Pier Street, be constructed on the Portabello Pizza property.
Another housing development could be created on the Jadair property south of Grand Avenue and west of South Milwaukee Street — a mid-rise building with as many as 50 apartments on the west end of the property and 15 townhouses on the south side of the land.
A public walking path could also be created on the wooded area on the far south side of the parcel, the plan states.
“This is a very interesting plan,” one man said. “I like the direction it’s going. But as a Pier Street resident, the one thing downtown is missing now is a basic grocery store.”
The plan does suggest that the property at the corner of South Wisconsin Street and Grand Avenue — across from City Hall — could be redeveloped and become home to a small market, officials noted.
“We’ve had three Realtors and they can’t find a grocery store willing to come in,” Voigt said.
But the increased residential development in the plan might be enough to spur interest by providing additional traffic for a market, officials said.
Aldermen were enthusiastic about the plan before they approved it after the public hearing.
Ald. Doug Biggs said he was initially concerned about the loss of public land around the marina.
“But much of the public space we’re talking about is concrete,” he said. “We’re talking about something that could be described as blighted and turning it into a place where people would gather.”
While not as visible as many of the other areas, the Jadair property proposals could also have a major impact on downtown, Ald. Paul Neumyer said.
“It would really complete the area,” he said.
Ald. Dan Becker said the plan creates a needed vision to guide development.
“I think it’s really exciting,” he said. “It’s good just to see what it could look like there.
“Obviously all these sites except for the parking lot are owned by other folks, but this could encourage some of these owners, show them this is what could be, and get them excited too.”
The plan also gives developers an idea of what the city wants and will approve for these areas, Mayor Tom Mlada said.
“It helps us lead this forward, and it also provides vision,” he said. “I think we’re going to get some serious interest.
“This isn’t something that will gather dust on a shelf. We’ll begin to act on it. There are some opportunities for us to move on this (plan) in the next year.”
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 05 November 2014 18:33
Briggs & Stratton’s equipment testing continues to irk residents who ask board to enforce ordinance
A group of neighbors tired of what they say is excessive noise coming from the Briggs & Stratton proving grounds on Highway LL beseeched the Port Washington Town Board on Monday to enforce the town’s noise ordinance.
It was a recurring debate that got testy as more than a dozen frustrated residents confronted the board over an issue they say has been recurring for years — one they said they need the town’s help in resolving.
“I don’t think any demand we’re making is unreasonable. We’re looking for a time frame for it to be solved, and we’ll keep coming until it’s handled,” Michael Howarth, 3251 Bay Hill Rd., told the board.
Officials, for their part, said they have been trying to work with the company to solve the problem and noted the complexity of dealing with noise issues.
Town Chairman Jim Melichar said he’s taken the residents’ complaints to company representatives at the proving grounds and they assured him they are working to solve the issue.
He said he was told a request to install acoustic fencing to muffle the sound is pending before corporate officials.
The town, Melichar said, has to work with the company as well as residents.
“What am I supposed to do? Shut them down?” Melichar asked. “I have a hard time asking a business to shut down.”
That’s not what they want either, residents said. They just want the noise to be controlled so they can enjoy their properties.
Although there have been some improvements — Briggs no longer tests its machinery at night, they said — there is much that needs to be done yet.
The problem, residents said, is that Briggs & Stratton will run mowers on pavement, unmanned, for 15 hours a day to test them, which creates a loud and annoying noise that spreads through the area.
“When they run those mowers over concrete, it gets pretty noisy,” one man told the board.
“We moved here for the quiet,” another man said. “To have factory noise when you’re sitting outside is pretty annoying.”
“I hear it when my windows are closed,” said Nancy Gauthier, 3283 Bay Hill Rd. “It’s not so much the volume as the pitch. It’s a whine that really drives you crazy.”
The noise isn’t a daily event, but it happens frequently, residents said.
“Their methods change all the time,” Al Gauthier said. “This summer it was quiet.”
Melichar said he’s spoken to workers at the site who say they are trying to get a noise-absorbing fence installed that should help the situation.
“That is going to be their first line of defense,” Melichar said.
The town has a noise ordinance, and the board needs to enforce it, said Rory Cattelan, 3274 Bay Hill Rd.
Cattelan, who sent the board an e-mail prior to the meeting outlining his concerns, noted that the ordinance calls for all noise to be muffled or controlled so it is not objectionable.
“There is no control or muffling at all,” he wrote. “No berm, no shelter, no vegetation, nothing. Why isn’t this ordinance enforced? Are we not an annoyed or disturbed neighborhood? What makes Briggs & Stratton exempt from abiding by these ordinances?”
Cattelan reiterated those concerns at the meeting, adding that he and his neighbors only want to enjoy their property.
“If the town does not pressure them to be good neighbors, then they have no incentive and we have no voice,” he wrote. “But we do have a vote.”
Town Supr. Mike Didier said part of the problem is that noise ordinances are difficult to enforce. The town can write a citation, but too often, it will be thrown out in court on a technicality, he said.
“That’s one reason we’re trying to work with them first,” he said.
Melichar said he went to the site after receiving Cattelan’s e-mail, and officials there told him they’re doing all they can.
“They’re working their way through corporate,” he said.
But the neighbors said they keep getting promises and not action from the firm, and they’re sick of it.
“Why can’t they just put hay bales around the fence?” asked Howarth. “It’s worth a shot. It’s got to be better than nothing.”
Melichar said this might be a solution, at least until the company installs acoustic fencing.
“I’ll talk to them tomorrow. I’ll take a semiload of straw there and donate it,” he said. “That should help.”
But Cattelan told the board it needs to keep the pressure on Briggs & Stratton to solve the problem.
“I hate coming to complain to you as much as you hate hearing from me, but without pressure, noting will happen,” he said. “Our best approach is to force them to be friendly neighbors.”
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV
Wednesday, 29 October 2014 17:57
Largest general aid increase received by any district in county will give residents bigger tax break than expected
An increase in general state aid — the largest received by any school district in Ozaukee County this year — will give Port Washington-Saukville School District taxpayers a significantly greater tax break than expected, according to a 2014-15 budget approved by the school board Monday.
The district will receive $595,432 more in state general aid this year, a $4.6% increase that brings the total amount of general aid to $13.5 million.
For the first time in three years, the state is paying more to educate students in the Port-Saukville School District than local taxpayers are.
Why? Because relative to other school districts, the Port-Saukville school system is poorer in terms of property value given the number of students it educates.
The formula used to determine state general school aid is complex, but to a large extent it is based on property value and enrollment.
The property value per student in the Port-Saukville District is $573,540, the lowest in the county. The second lowest is $682,646 for the Northern Ozaukee School District in Fredonia.
“That surprises me because when you look at the Northern Ozaukee District, you think we have to be more property rich,” Jim Froemming, the director of business services for the Port-Saukville School District, said.
But, he noted, the Northern Ozaukee District educates far fewer students, 821 compared to Port-Saukville’s 2,611.
And although Fredonia based, the Northern Ozaukee school system includes valuable Saukville industrial property as well as Town of Belgium lakefront properties.
The property value per student is $731,407 in the Grafton School District, $754,994 in the Cedarburg School District and $1.3 million in the Mequon-Thiensville School District, which receives just $2.2 million in state general aid.
Port-Saukville School Supt. Michael Weber noted that an increase in state aid does not equate to more money for education.
“If we receive more state aid and the revenue limit stays the same, our students realize no benefit,” he said. “But it does result in tax relief, and in a sense we’re getting our fair share of state aid instead of it being distributed elsewhere in the state.”
The school board on Monday approved a 2014-15 tax levy of $13.8 million, a $403,856 (2.85%) decrease from last year.
The decrease in the levy, combined with a 4% increase in the district’s equalized property value, results in a tax rate of $9.22 per $1,000 of property value, a 6.6% decrease that will reduce the tax rate by 66 cents per $1,000 of value.
That means that the owner of a $175,000 home, adjusted for appreciation, will pay about $49 less in school taxes this year.
The actual savings will depend, however, on where that home is located and how the value of that community compares to others in the district.
For instance, in the City of Port Washington, where equalized property values increased 4.4%, the average tax savings is estimated by the district to be $46.
In the Village of Saukville, however, where property value increased by only 2.7%, the average homeowner can expect to pay about $72 less in school taxes.
The amount of money residents pay to support schools is controlled by state revenue limits, but there are exceptions that affect the tax levy.
Districts are allowed to exceed those limits if, for instance, voters approve referendums, and in that regard the Port-Saukville School District is an aberration. It is the only district in the county that does not have referendum debt, a fact that officials have noted as they prepare a multi-million-dollar spending plan that will need to be approved by voters if the district is to renovate Port Washington High School and address space concerns at the elementary schools.
Districts are also allowed to tax beyond revenue limits for community service expenses — those attributable to community use of school facilities, such as gyms. The Port-Saukville School District will levy $252,411 for community service this school year.
The problem for districts is that the state has frozen community service levies. That could be a challenge for the Port-Saukville School District, whose architect has proposed building regulation gyms at Saukville and Lincoln elementary schools, as well as Port Washington High School, to meet not only the needs of students but the increasing demand from the community for gym space. Under the community service levy freeze, the district cannot tax more to cover its costs of providing and maintaining facilities used by the community even if it builds new facilities for that purpose, Froemming said.
“The state is basically saying, if you’re going to add these kinds of facilities, you may have to charge the community more in fees (not taxes) to use them,” he said.
Although the district does not have referendum debt, it is repaying a $1.8 million loan used to finance improvements. Because the improvements will result in verifiable energy savings, state law allowed the district to borrow the money without voter approval.
The district launched the $2.27 million project in 2012, opting to finance $1.8 million of that cost to make improvements that ranged from the installation of energy-efficient lighting to new heating and cooling systems.
The improvements resulted in an energy savings of $57,167 over the last year, $21,630 of which will be used to reduce this year’s debt payment. The payment plan calls for the district to make annual payments of about $195,000 over 10 years. This year’s payment will be $171,100 because of the savings applied to the debt.