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.
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 22 October 2014 20:23
Port council decides to spend $22,468 to upgrade warning devices while other communities question need
Bucking the trend of municipalities seeking to eliminate their tornado sirens, the Port Washington Common Council on Tuesday voted to replace the warning siren at its Wisconsin Street tower this fall.
Aldermen agreed to spend $22,648 to replace one of the city’s four warning sirens, with two others to be replaced in the coming years.
“All of them are getting old,” City Administrator Mark Grams said. “They still work, but they’re on their last toes now.”
It’s getting hard for the city to obtain parts when the sirens need to be repaired, he said.
The sirens are a necessary piece of the city’s infrastructure, Ald. Paul Neumyer said.
“It’s an important warning for the populace,” he said.
In 2011, Village of Saukville officials weighed whether it was worth upgrading their warning sirens in an age when cell phones are prevalent and offer almost immediate notification of emergencies.
Before trustees made a decision, American Signal Corp. of Milwaukee pledged to make the improvements at no cost to the village.
And earlier this year, when Town of Fredonia officials considered removing a malfunctioning siren in Little Kohler, noting that the replacement cost was estimated to be between $30,000 and $40,000, the company again stepped in, repairing the siren at no cost to the community.
In Port, there was no debate about whether to replace the emergency sirens. Officials agreed now is the time to begin repairing them, especially since American Signal has a crew in the area and offered the city a 15% discount.
Officials decided to replace the Wisconsin Street siren before the others, Grams said, because it is centrally located and covers a larger portion of the city than the other three.
Two of the other sirens — one near Dunwiddie Elementary School on the city’s west side and the other near the Port Washington-Saukville School District office on Monroe Street on the north side — will be replaced in 2016 and 2017, he said, as the budget allows.
The fourth siren, at the highway department, won’t be replaced, Grams said, noting its coverage area overlaps the others.
The sirens are at least 20 years old, Grams said.
“I think they’ve been up longer than I’ve been with the city,” he said.
Even though the city is replacing the siren, residents may still hear it going off occasionally when it shouldn’t, Grams said.
Most of the time that occurs, it’s because of wiring issues, he said.
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 15 October 2014 19:08
Recommendation calls for paring spring, fall collecting to save money, free up crews
Brush collection in the City of Port Washington will be a little less frequent next year if a plan recommended by the Board of Public Works is adopted by the Common Council.
The board recommended that the city collect brush from the curb on alternate weeks in spring and fall, but retain its weekly collection during the summer.
That will save the city almost $4,000 next year and free street department workers to do other tasks, officials said.
“In the summer, summer employees do the work,” Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven said, noting these employees are typically students who make $8 to $9 an hour.
“When they go back to college, we have two full-time employees who do this work. We lose two very skilled employees who pick up brush when they could be doing many other things.
“We’re losing a lot of productivity.”
The alternate week pickup would occur from April 15 to May 15, and again from Sept. 1 to Nov. 1. Weekly collection would run from May 15 to Sept. 1.
Ald. Kevin Rudser suggested that the city collect brush only once a month and instead open the city yard on Sundays, allowing people to drop off brush there instead.
“I know it’s one of those things people really like,” Rudser said, but the added convenience of being able to drop off yard waste another day each week might offset any potential problems.
But Street Commissioner Dave Ewig said that isn’t practical, since there isn’t enough room at the yard to store the volume of waste.
Ewig said he is willing to give the proposed new schedule a shot, but noted that the service is one residents value.
“We certainly want to make the best use of our manpower,” he said. “My only concern is, especially in spring, people do a lot of trimming and we get a lot of brush.”
Board Chairman Craig Czarnecki reiterated the fact that residents value the pickup.
“The only time I got an earful from someone (about city services) is from a neighbor whose brush wasn’t picked up as quickly as he thought it should be,” he said.
If the system doesn’t work out, the city could revert back to weekly collection in 2016, board members said.