Written by BILL SCHANEN IV
Tuesday, 24 November 2015 22:13
With building needs handled, should district sell site it’s owned for decades?
With the decision made to create a modern high school on its current site and build an addition onto Dunwiddie Elementary School, is it time for the Port Washington-Saukville School District to sell an undeveloped school site it’s been holding onto for decades?
Good question, officials said Monday.
“It will be somewhat of a difficult decision, but you need to think about how much longer the district should hold onto this vacant land before we turn it over to the tax rolls and generate some revenue for the district from the sale of the land,” Supt. Michael Weber told the School Board Building and Grounds Committee.
The land in question is a 54-acre parcel north of Highway 33 and east of Highway LL in the City of Port Washington that officials said the district acquired more than 30 years ago. The property is flanked by the Spinnaker West subdivision to the south and Woods at White Pine development to the west.
The district currently leases the property to Century Acres Inc., which farms the land. The lease expires in December 2016.
The district has held onto the property for decades as an insurance policy against growth, and with studies and proposals through the years that called for significant residential development, it was a welcome peace of mind.
But some projects, like the sprawling VK Development subdivision planned for the south side of the city, never materialized, and what growth has occurred didn’t overwhelm schools with students.
“A city development plan at one point projected fairly significant growth in Port Washington, and again the school board thought we should hang onto the property,” Weber said. “But here we are, eight to 10 years later, and that growth hasn’t happened. The city has grown, but not to the extent that was projected.”
And in April, the approval of a $49.4 million referendum settled the debate over whether to commit to the current high school site or look for a new location for Port High. In addition, the school improvement plan will provide for an addition at Dunwiddie Elementary School to alleviate overcrowding in the primary grade levels.
“All the reasons we’ve been hanging onto the property began falling away with the passage of the referendum,” Weber said.
If there are reasons to hang onto the land, school officials said, they include the fact that there are plans for new residential developments in Port, and vacant parcels large enough to accommodate a school are scarce.
Most notably, plans for the Cedar Vineyard subdivision on former VK Development land call for 82 homes to be built beginning next year.
The city is also preparing to sell 44 acres of former We Energies land on the Lake Michigan bluff immediately south of the power plant for development.
But there is no sign yet that the district will need another school to accommodate increases in enrollment, and there is room on all of its elementary school sites to expand current buildings, school officials said.
And selling the property, which nestled among subdivisions is a logical place for residential growth, could benefit both the district and the city financially. Selling it to a private developer would put the land on the tax rolls and, when developed, would add value to the tax base. It could also net a significant amount of money for the school district.
The decision, school officials said, will likely come down to what the property is worth.
“I think it’s a very desirable location for residential development,” school board member Brenda Fritsch said.
She noted, however, that although the economy and housing market are showing signs of life, developers may still be wary of major undertakings.
“Development and new homes are on the uptick, but it may take some time for developers to want to take on significant projects,” Fritsch said.
The district is working with Moegenburg Research Inc., a Brookfield real estate appraisal and consulting firm, to determine the value and marketability of the land.
“Keeping the land is not a financial burden to the district,” Weber said, noting the district receives a small amount of revenue from leasing the property, “but the question is, is it necessary to continue holding onto it or do we sell it at top market value?”
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Thursday, 19 November 2015 14:41
Port aldermen OK controversial plan to pare road near school, add sidewalks despite residents’ protests
The Port Washington Common Council on Tuesday approved a controversial plan to narrow Theis street and lane near Lincoln Elementary School on the city’s north side.
The city also agreed to add sidewalks on the south side of Theis Street and east side of Theis Lane when the road is reconstructed next year.
The decision was slammed by Fred Schaefer, 209 Theis St.
“You voted to go against the vast majority of the residents of Theis Street and Theis Lane in making the decision you made tonight,” he told aldermen, saying officials made that choice so they could “save a couple bucks.”
“It’s sad, it really is sad, that we have to do this,” he said.
While city officials contend the work will slow traffic and provide a safer walk to school for students, Schaefer and his neighbors have argued it will do just the opposite.
Youngsters walking on the new sidewalk on the south side of Theis Street will have to cross traffic on Theis Lane when being dropped off or picked up, Schaefer said.
“Then they will have to cross a line of traffic at the school, walking between cars, to get into the school,” he said.
It is far safer for students to travel on the existing sidewalk on the north side of the street, which leads directly to the school, Schaefer said.
Few students actually walk to school, he added.
“I can count on one hand the number who walk on the north side,” Schaefer said, adding that the work will also kill numerous mature trees that line the street.
But city officials noted that it is safer for youngsters to walk on sidewalks than in the street, which currently occurs, and added that the sidewalk will serve not just students but other pedestrians as well.
Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven said school officials reviewed the plan in the last week.
“They had no concerns with the installation of sidewalk, decreasing the street width or adding crosswalks,” he said. “Like us, they want to encourage kids to walk to school.
“And while not many students may use the sidewalk, pedestrians will.”
The sidewalk and crosswalks will also put drivers on notice to watch out for walkers, Ald. Mike Ehrlich said.
“It tells you, ‘Now I’ve got to pay attention,’” he said.
The plan approved by the council represents a compromise. Vanden Noven had originally recommended narrowing Theis Street, which is currently 36 feet wide, and Theis Lane, which is 38 feet, to 30 feet. But after residents brought their concerns to the Board of Public Works, members recommended making both roads 32 feet wide.
“I think it was a good compromise,” Ald. Dan Becker said.
Also approved in the road plan were designs for a number of other city streets, including Lincoln Avenue from Portview Drive to Spring Street; Tower Drive from Second to Grand avenues; Larabee Street from Spring Street to its west end; Woodland Avenue from Garfield Avenue to the cul de sac; Norport Drive from Grant to Holden streets; Holden Street from James to Norport drives; James Drive from Holden to Benjamin streets; and Benjamin Street from Norport Drive to Beutel Road.
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 11 November 2015 21:40
Theis Street residents tell board that paring width, installing sidewalk will endanger safety of students, parents
About 20 people who live near Lincoln Elementary School in Port Washington told the Board of Public Works Tuesday that a city proposal to narrow Theis street and lane and install sidewalk where there currently is none would endanger the safety of students and parents.
“Why do you all the sudden want to narrow the streets?” asked Fred Schaefer, 209 Theis St. “It’s a beautiful street. The vast majority of property owners feel the street should be kept the same. We are just fine.”
The city had proposed narrowing Theis Street, which is currently 36 feet, and Theis Lane, which is 38 feet, to 30 feet.
Narrowing Theis street and lane would slow traffic in an area where vehicles already travel at a snail’s pace, residents argued, and installing sidewalk on the south side of Theis Street and east side of Theis Lane would force children to cross the street to the school in an area where traffic is congested, causing an unsafe situation.
“If we didn’t have a school on James Drive, I wouldn’t mind you narrowing the street,” one man said. “But we have a school. You have to consider that.”
But Rob Vanden Noven, the city’s director of public works, argued that narrowing the road will slow traffic, making for a safer situation and allowing drivers to react if youngsters dart out or walk in the roadway — something they do now because there isn’t sidewalk on both sides.
“We’re around a school. It’s a place where we want traffic to move slowly,” he said, noting most of the traffic is heading west with parents who are dropping off and picking up students largely waiting in line in the parking lane. “It just seems to me to be the safest design.”
But Carol Jushka, 233 W. Theis St., said that installing sidewalks on both sides of the road would require two crosswalks at the intersection of Theis street and lane, both of them in an area where traffic is congested as parents pick up and drop off youngsters.
The current situation, where the sidewalk on the north side leads students directly to the school without crossing the street, is safer, Jushka said.
“You’re creating a traffic situation that isn’t there now,” she said.
Few people walk on the existing sidewalk outside of school hours and few students walk to school, residents said, proof that additional sidewalk isn’t necessary.
Residents also said that slowing traffic isn’t required, noting that it already moves slowly.
Gloria Spudowski, 227 Theis St., said that because the traffic moves so slowly when parents drop off and pick up students, it is difficult for residents to access their driveways.
“We have to adjust our schedules to accommodate the school traffic or sit and wait for 45 minutes or so to pull into our driveways, sitting there in our cars yards from our homes we can’t get to,” she said in a written comment to the board.
“What you are proposing will make the problem even worse for us.”
A narrower street will also make it more difficult for emergency vehicles to get through when needed, said James Reisimer Sr., 214 Theis St.
“If you narrow that street six feet and there’s cars parked on both sides of the street, it’s not going to work,” he said. “If my house would be on fire, it’s going to be tough to get a fire truck there.
“I’m looking out not just for the safety of the children, but my neighbors, too.”
Board Chairman Craig Czarnecki asked if parking restrictions might make the situation better, but the residents said they would just make it more difficult for them to park on the street outside their homes.
Board member Jason Wittek said sidewalk is important, especially near a school. Even without a school, he added, sidewalk is used by many people from throughout the community.
The city has a policy of adding sidewalk in places where there currently is none when streets are reconstructed, Vanden Noven noted, saying it benefits the community as a whole.
Czarnecki, a city police officer, noted that crosswalks stop people from crossing in midblock, which would improve safety.
He also noted that when the city has narrowed other streets and added sidewalk, similar arguments have been made opposing the changes. But after the work is done, Czarnecki said, there have been few problems or complaints.
That’s true not just in places like downtown, where Franklin Street was narrowed, but near schools such as St. Mary’s, where several adjoining roads were narrowed and sidewalk placed, board members said.
Ultimately, the board decided to compromise, deciding to narrow the street and lane to 32 feet and delaying a decision on the sidewalk issue, directing Vanden Noven to meet with officials from the Port Washington-Saukville School District to get their input into the situation.
Even if the sidewalk isn’t built immediately, Vanden Noven said, the street will be designed to accommodate it at a future date.
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 04 November 2015 20:41
Taxes remain flat, but city forced to shelve $263,000 in projects to meet levy limit
The property tax rate for the City of Port Washington is expected to remain flat, but the good news for taxpayers belies the fact the city is facing tough financial times that have forced officials to shelve needed projects.
For years, the city has trimmed its budget and said no to requests for capital projects, and it’s getting to the point that this can’t be sustained, Ald. Dave Larson, chairman of the Finance and License Committee said.
It is only funding $158,300 in capital projects, or 38% of the requests, for items that are needed to ensure the quality of life in the city, Larson said. The city didn’t fund $263,000 in capital requests.
Last year, he added, the city was only able to fund 25% of these requests.
“That $263,000 we are saying no to will need to be addressed in the future,” Larson said.
These aren’t wants but needs, he said, and they won’t fall by the wayside. In fact, other necessary requests will be added to the list — a list the city needs to address.
The only way to do that, Larson said, is to grow the city’s tax base.
“Growth is the only answer,” he said. “Our budget is not in good shape. If we do not have growth, we’re going to be in rough shape.
“We can’t continue to fund only 25% to 35% of our capital needs. Eventually, it catches up to you.”
But for 2016, the property tax rate will remain the same as last year, $5.78 per $1,000 assessed valuation, Larson said.
“Your city taxes will remain the same for 2016,” he said. “That’s the good news. The only taxes that are going up are from the school district.”
The tax rate will raise the $4.98 million levy needed to support the proposed 2016 operating budget of $9,034,000.
A public hearing on the budget will be held at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 17, at city hall.
To help balance the budget, the city is increasing its building permit fees, which were at the bottom of those charged in surrounding communities, as well as its operator’s licenses, Larson said.
“We can raise permit fees all we want, but we need to grow,” he said. “We need to look at things like Cedar Vineyard, like Harbour Lights and like the Blues Factory.”
Larson noted that the city’s equalized valuation is about $871 million, far less that Cedarburg and Grafton, which each top $1 billion.
The city has been trimming its budget every year, Larson added, “and at some point, there’s nothing left to cut.”
This year’s budget has been one of the most difficult he’s worked on, Larson said, noting state levy limits don’t allow the city to raise taxes.
“We hear a lot about what people want. Unfortunately, our job has been to say no a lot,” he said. “We don’t have a choice.”
The city still needs to trim the budget by about $30,000 to meet the state’s expenditure restraint program limits, City Administrator Mark Grams said.
The city budget includes funding for a new full-time police officer, a position long sought by the police department, Larson said.
“Certainly this is what I think is one of the most essential and core functions of government, providing for the safety of citizens,” he said, noting Port Washington currently has 1.64 officers per 1,000 residents, fewer than most surrounding communities.
With the heroin epidemic, “it just makes sense to have a little more coverage,” Larson said, adding that the new officer probably won’t join the department until somewhere between July and September because of financing.
The city plans to borrow $4 million for roads and $235,000 for a front-end loader for the street department, Grams said. Another $1 million borrowing is expected for water main work done in conjunction with the street projects.
The city may have to add another $275,000 to the borrowing for new air packs for firefighters, Larson said. That is just one of the unfunded capital requests this year, one that city officials are hoping can be funded through a grant that would cover 90% of the cost.
If the city doesn’t receive the grant, borrowing is the only answer, he said.
“That is essential,” he said.
Some people have suggested the city borrow more to cover costs, but that is irresponsible, Larson said.
“The reason we don’t do that is the same reason you don’t max out your credit cards,” he said. “The best thing we can do as a city is to grow our tax base.”