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Delinquent county taxpayers up 13.5% PDF Print E-mail
Community
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 30 September 2009 18:46

Sluggish economy suspected as major reason more than 800 landowners have not paid 2008 tax bills

In what is likely a sign of the tough economic times, the number of property tax delinquencies in Ozaukee County has risen 13.5% over the last year, Treasurer Karen Makoutz said Tuesday.

As of Sept. 1, the owners of 872 parcels had not paid their 2008 taxes, compared to 768 last year, Makoutz said.

“How many of these are full tax charges or cases where they owe their second tax installment or just a portion of that second installment, I don’t know,” she said.

“The economy has to be blamed for it, I think, with people losing their jobs and ability to pay.
   
“Everyone’s circumstances change. Everyone’s circumstances are different.”

The delinquencies total $2,346,152, compared to $1,944,028 last year, Makoutz said.

Those numbers will go down — and probably have already — as people make payments, Makoutz noted.

“In a couple days, this number will look way different,” she said. “It goes down every month as people make payments.”

The county works with property owners to set up a payment plan so they can pay off the delinquency, penalties and interest.

The penalties and interest total 1.5% per month until the delinquency is paid in full, she said.

“Work down that balance, that’s what we’re trying to encourage,” Makoutz said. “We try to help them as much as we can.”

Declaring a tax bill delinquent is the first step toward the county foreclosing on a property, Makoutz said.

The county is preparing to file for foreclosures on 35 properties Thursday, Oct. 1, she said, down from last year when it initiated 45 foreclosures.

The county is only allowed to file for when taxes are delinquent for two years, nine months, Makoutz said. That means the properties being foreclosed on now are delinquent on all or part of their 2006 taxes.

While most of the 35 property owners are delinquent on their 2006, 2007 and 2008 taxes, that’s not true of all the landowners, she said.

“We are working with some who have paid their 2007 and 2008 taxes but owe part of their 2006 taxes,” Makoutz said, noting the amounts owed by these property owners range from $26, plus penalties and interest, to thousands of dollars.

She writes to these property owners virtually every month trying to settle their accounts, Makoutz added.

“My goal is to get them on a payment plan and not to foreclose,” she said.

Some property owners are on the foreclosure list every year but settle their accounts before the year-long process is completed, Makoutz noted.

“I can think of seven right now who have been on that list every year,” she said.

Virtually every property owner is likely to pay before the foreclosure process is completed, Makoutz said.

“In the last dozen years, Ozaukee County has foreclosed on only one single property,” she said, the 62-acre Shady Lane property in the Town of Fredonia formerly owned by Steven and Chieko Magritz, who owed more than $27,000 in back taxes, interest and penalties.

Last year, two parcels were in foreclosure until virtually the end of the process, Makoutz said. In one case, the individual paid the back taxes, penalties and interest, while in the other case the bank paid.

“We work hard to work with the individual so we get our tax money and the individual retains the property,” Makoutz said. “My goal is never to take the property but to get the cash.”

 
Students opting for streets over lots PDF Print E-mail
Community
Written by Bill Schanen IV   
Wednesday, 16 September 2009 21:48
Some PWHS drivers say they park on crowded roads because of $100 school fee

The start of classes has brought the return of parking congestion near Port Washington High School, where dozens of students park on nearby neighborhood streets instead of school lots.

While it’s difficult to find a parking place on quiet Jackson Street east of the school or well-traveled Holden Street north of the school, there are 48 open parking spaces in the school parking lots.

That doesn’t surprise students.

“Paying $100 for one parking place is a lot of money for a student,” senior Michael Hernandez said as he walked from school to his car parked on Jackson Street Monday.
“And why pay anything when you can park on the street for free?”

The high school parking fee was implemented in 2006 after being proposed by an ad hoc committee charged with developing strategies to reduce spending and increase revenue. Students pay $100 a school year to park in one of 142 parking places in lots less than a block from the high school. The fee is prorated by the quarter.

The fee has the potential to generate more than $14,000 a year in revenue for the district, but some city officials said it’s not helping the parking problems on streets near the high school.

“I get that it’s a revenue source for the district, but I think it (parking) is something the city and school district need to discuss,” said Ald. Dan Becker, who is also a member of the city’s Traffic Safety Committee.

Responding to complaints earlier this summer, the committee proposed and the Common Council approved an ordinance that prohibits parking on a small section of Holden Street because of safety concerns caused by student parking.

The no-parking restriction remedied safety concerns on Holden Street, but problems persist elsewhere, officials said.

“Now we have an entire school parking lot that’s empty,” Becker said. “The space is there for students. You would like to see the school spaces used to prevent this sprawl onto city streets.”

Street parking near the high school is not a new problem. Nearby residents have complained over the years about blocked driveways, congested streets, heavy traffic and a lack of parking in their neighborhoods.

City officials have responded by restricting or eliminating parking in some of these areas but realize such restrictions also affect residents, who like other city taxpayers want to park on the streets near their homes occasionally.

Last month, Ald. Paul Neumyer said residents on Hillcrest Court, a small dead-end street one block from the high school, have repeatedly called him with concerns about students taking all the parking spots near their homes and making it difficult for them when they back out of their driveways.

But Port Washington-Saukville School Supt. Michael Weber said he doesn’t believe the school parking fee is the cause of the problems.

“When there was no fee, there was still parking on the street,” he said. “I’m not so sure the fee is the issue here.”

The demand for student parking has ebbed and flowed over the years. As recently as a few years ago, the high school did not have enough parking places to accommodate the demand.

To help, the city allowed free student parking in its swimming pool parking lot off Webster Street just south of the high school. That lot remains popular with students despite the fact there are open spaces in the high school parking lots, which are slightly closer to the main entrance of the school.

Police Chief Richard Thomas said he plans to have officers analyze traffic accidents near the high school to see if student parking is a safety problem.


“I drove past the high school the other day and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s an entire parking lot wide open,’” he said. “Parking on the street definitely creates congestion, and if we’re responding to an emergency, that can be an issue.”

Street parking is not the police department’s only responsibility. The department also monitors the high school parking lots, issuing $5 tickets to students who park in these lots without a permit.

“Believe it or not, we have a couple students who take the chance and park there without a permit,” Thomas said. “I guess they figure a few $5 tickets are cheaper than the $100 permit.”
 
Mayor tries to ease coal dock concerns PDF Print E-mail
Community
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 25 March 2009 00:00
Huebner acknowledges complications in obtaining land but says Port is committed to developing lakefront site

Members of Port Washington’s coal dock committee on Tuesday asked officials if, after months of planning and thousands of dollars in consulting fees, the city will be able to develop this valuable lakefront property.

Recent Ozaukee Press stories reporting that obtaining control of the land will not be as simple as officials anticipated have raised questions in people’s minds about whether the project has stalled, they said.

Mayor Scott Huebner, while acknowledging unanticipated complications, said the city remains committed to the coal dock project, adding he is confident the city will be able to gain control of the land.

“The city is going to get the land,” Huebner said. “The question is just the course we are taking.”

When the city began talks in earnest about planning for the property, state officials told them the easiest and quickest way to obtain control of the land was to lease it from the state, he said.

The other option would be to obtain a lakebed grant from the Legislature.

Officials followed that advice, believing the city would directly lease the property from the state. But earlier this year, the state informed the city and We Energies that only the utility could lease the coal dock from the state. To control the dock, the city would have to sublease it from We Energies.

Huebner, who called the information “a curveball” that neither the city nor We Energies expected, said he sees benefits to the city in either method.

“There’s as much good in being the sublessee, I think, as in a lakebed grant,” Huebner said. “It gives us some rights. The state continues to have a vested interest in it. We Energies will have a vested interest.”

The lease arrangement would be for 50 years, with We Energies having the first right to renew the lease. Huebner said he would like the city to have the second right to the lease, so if the utility does not want to renew the document, the city would have that option.

Discovery World in Milwaukee was built under a lease arrangement, Huebner said.

“They’re not worried about losing the land,” he said. “The state’s not going to let us invest millions of dollars and then take the land away.”

The city can’t afford to let the opportunities presented by the coal dock slip away, said Richard Hitchcock, president of Hitchcock Design Group, which was hired by the city to design the coal dock development.

“This opportunity is so immense. It would be a shame to have it stall because of these questions,” he said.

Although the country is in a recession, this is the ideal time to pursue such a massive public project, he said.

“There’s no better time to think big,” Hitchcock said. “People are looking for things that can be uplifting and give the community hope.

“And you will never buy site improvements as cheaply as you will in the next 12 months.”

Although the overall cost of the coal dock development plan is estimated at almost $30 million, even a relatively small initial investment will show people the potential of the land, Hitchcock said.

“For $4.5 million to $5 million, you get something you would be pretty proud to show off,” he said.

The city is working on applications for three grants — Department of Natural Resources non-point and stewardship grants and a Coastal Management grant — to help fund portions of the project, he said.

In addition to grants, other potential funding sources include donations from individuals and foundations, local appropriations and the proceeds from the sale of 40 acres of land We Energies will be donating to the city, he said.

Hitchcock broke the design work into eight segments with potential timetables and rough cost estimates, adding these are subject to change:

Work on the entry to the coal dock and installation of a large portion of the harborwalk, which he said could occur in 2010 or 2011, and would cost roughly $4.5 million.

The south dock, which would largely be converted into a natural area with trails, could be done in 2010 or 2011 for $1 million.

That cost, Hitchcock said, is based on the city’s design, but We Energies does not have to follow that plan. It could develop and implement its own plan that takes into account state requirements for the property.

Naturalizing the Sauk Creek area near the entrance to the coal dock in 2011 to 2012 could cost $1 million.

Improvements to Wisconsin Street, which would likely be done as the construction road through the We Energies site is improved, is estimated at $1 million.

Creation of a floating pier on the northeast end of the dock where boaters could tie up for a short time could be done in 2013 or 2014 for $1 million.

The east end of the dock, including walkways, lighting, a natural area and a pedestrian bridge to the south coal dock, could be done in 2014 or 2015 for an estimated $4 million.

Creation of a children’s garden or themed, interactive area in 2016 or 2017 is estimated to cost $4.5 million.

Construction of a two-story, multi-use building on the north side of the dock in 2017 or 2018 at an estimated cost of $10 million.

A bridge from Rotary Park to the coal dock could be built in 2019 or 2020 for $1 million.

The most immediate concern is to come up with a grading plan for the coal dock area, said Bill Schmidt of Hitchcock Design.

We Energies is preparing to remediate the property, and the plan is needed so the utility can do rough grading that will facilitate the city’s plans for development of the dock, he said.

We Energies is scheduled to turn the coal dock land over to the city by the end of 2010, Schmidt said, but its work is ahead of schedule. The utility could turn the property over to the city by September 2010, he said.

Huebner said the Common Council will look at the plans for the coal dock and set priorities for the property sometime in late April or May.

After the grading plan is completed and priorities set, fund-raising work will begin, he said.

 
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