Waukesha BID Board gets new budget - but is it too late?
Time is running out to save downtown group
Jeff Barta wasn't encouraged as he sat discussing the latest developments with those in attendance following the downtown Waukesha Business Improvement District Board meeting.
"Not at all," said the owner of Nice Ash Cigar Bar moments after the BID Board approved a plan in an attempt to save the taxing district in downtown.
The BID Board agreed on a budget that would transfer more than $43,000 of the BID tax, something Barta and other property owners pay, from the financial support category to the wages and administrative services category.
BID Board President Bill Huelsman said these funds would be used to keep open the BID office, 802 N. Grand Ave., to clean sidewalks and water flowers. But there wasn't talk about hiring an executive director to be a point of contact in downtown, to fundraise and to recruit businesses.
The new plan would also eliminate the $150,000 for the new "streetscape, banners, decorations" category that wasn't in the 2012 budget.
There would also be a tax holiday for property owners in the BID.
Previously, the BID Board approved a budget where the financial support or "grant" money would go to fund other organizations' events such as Friday Night Live, GuitarTown, art crawls and Silver Bells.
That upset Barta and other property owners who said it was not a good use of the BID funds. A petition was then circulated to have the BID disbanded.
And with property owners with a combined assessed value exceeding 50 percent (a state statute requirement) on the petition, the termination process was underway.
The BID Board hadn't met since Jan. 24 - before the petition was filed - and with the termination complete on April 5 if more than 50 percent remained on the petition, the board reconvened to see if they could respond to the property owners. The Common Council, which first approved the plan but later rescinded it, took up the BID's operating plan and budget at its meeting Tuesday.
Even if approved, it could be for naught if enough signatures aren't taken off the list in the next 15 days.
"I talked to a number of (property owners) in the last couple of days and they had no interest in coming here because their minds are made up," said Barta, one of only a few property owners at the meeting. "It's going to be a monumental task."
At the meeting, Community Development Director Steve Crandell said there are 159 properties in the district, valued at $52.36 million. The property value of those who signed as of the March 6 public hearing was at $31.45 million. Crandell said on Friday that property owners who represent $4.8 million in assessed property value need to take their names off the petition for the BID to be saved.
"It's a very high bar to overcome," Huelsman said. "We have not done as good of a job as we should have staying in touch with people who actually pay the BID tax. I think if we go on, there needs to be a hell of a lot more consensus."
A granting organization?
Despite the board approving the plan that responds to some of their concerns, Barta and others were shaking their head when they heard board member Nick Martinez, a downtown attorney, say, "I think the BID should be a grantor organization for downtown events. Maybe not as great as we have originally sculpted but particularly Friday Night Live, art crawls, GuitarTown, are the cool things about Waukesha.
"I think more money needs to be put towards those events, especially the ones offered to be crossed out."
Huelsman said he agreed with Huelsman but added they're in the minority.
And board member Ron Lostetter said that "ultimately events are what brings people downtown" and hoped that by taking out the word "grant" from the budget for more flexibility in the financial-support category, it would be responsive to property owners.
Too little, too late
Not so much, Barta said.
"While it appeared the board had listened to the property owners somewhat, it was quite obvious they left themselves wiggle room to fund some of these events," Barta said. "(They're) looking to just change semantics vs. actual intent."
Barta said he was coming to the meeting with an open mind, but said "it just was way too little, too late."
He said he had encouraged the BID Board to have a roundtable with property owners to create a better plan.
"When you try to treat a problem you don't put a band-aid on a knee sprain," he said. "It's not going to do anything, cause you're not really addressing the problem. And we're not even close to acknowledging where the real problem lies."
Not enough viewpoints
The problem, Barta said, is representation on the board. He said the new board Mayor Jeff Scrima and the Common Council had trouble coming to an agreement on did not represent all the views of downtown.
"I think one of the things that could be done is beyond the board's ability," Barta said. "The mayor is unwilling to (appoint property owners) from what I've heard. If (the mayor) would appoint five property owners that signed the petition to the BID Board you'd have a balanced board.
"Then you would come to some sort of a meeting of the minds in the middle and you'd come up with a good plan. But that's beyond what the board can do. They have no control over that. It doesn't appear that's going to be done. I think that's what's going to sink the BID."
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