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.”
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 28 October 2015 19:23
Main Street committee creating lakefront district to provide more vehicle spaces, improve aesthetics
As Port Washington officials move ahead with a controversial plan to sell a city-owned waterfront parking lot, they are also working on plans to create a distinct marina district with an eye toward solving some of the parking issues that have been expressed.
The marina district plan, which is being created by Port Main Street Inc.’s Design Committee, is intended “to make the marina a special place, to enhance and embellish it,” said Randy Tetzlaff, the city’s director of planning and development.
Tetzlaff cited a recent study that showed boaters are seeking amenities when they dock, saying that’s something the city can build on to improve the marina.
While downtown is nearby, the aesthetics of the area can be improved with the district plan, he said.
“Right now, we have a massive parking lot they look at when they come in. We have the wall at the back of the Port Shopping Center,” Tetzlaff said.
Right now, the Design Committee has two marina district plans it is looking to merge into one. That plan would then be brought to the Harbor Commission and other interested groups for their input before being forwarded to the Common Council, he said.
Both plans create an entry to the marina and seek to make it a destination, Tetzlaff said.
But perhaps most important today, they also take into account the potential loss of trailer parking spots if the city sells a portion of the slip next to the former Victor’s restaurant, he said.
At least a portion of that lot, which accommodates about 22 trailers, would be needed for any residential development on the site, something called for in the downtown redevelopment plan, Tetzlaff said.
“The redevelopment plan anticipated some encroachment,” he said.
Although plans for the redevelopment of the Victor’s property haven’t been received by the city, Tetzlaff said officials want to be prepared.
The main way in which the plan deals with the need for more parking is to make many of the spaces in the marina parking lot north of Washington Street do double duty, Tetzlaff said.
These spaces would be designated for trailers in the morning hours, when fishermen need them, then be available for cars later in the day, when there’s a demand for those spaces, he said.
“They (Design Committee members) understand parking is important, but the parking has to be dual purpose,” Tetzlaff said. “You can’t have all that empty for seven or eight months.”
There would still be a loss of some spaces from the north slip parking lot, which could be sold to accommodate the development of The Blues Factory, a Paramount blues-related entertainment complex, Tetzlaff said, but the committee is continuing to try and address that.
“We’re trying to have no net loss or gain,” Tetzlaff said.
The loss of trailer stalls was one expressed by the Harbor Commission earlier this month.
To ensure the marina district plan addresses the commission’s concerns, Tetzlaff said, it will work with Lisa Rathke, the assistant harbormaster.
“We definitely want to hear their concerns and address them,” he said. “That’s vital.”
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV
Wednesday, 21 October 2015 21:51
But .44 magnum revolver allegedly stolen by PWHS student remains missing
Police investigating the theft of a handgun that resulted in a Port Washington High School student being charged with a felony last week have arrested a second teenager but continue to search for the weapon — a Ruger .44 magnum revolver.
Joshua R. Schires, 18, a former Port High student who now lives in the Madison area, was charged Monday with having possession of the stolen gun, a felony punishable by a maximum three years in prison and three years of extended supervision.
Schires also faces a misdemeanor charge of obstructing an officer for allegedly lying to police.
Last week, 17-year-old Dakota Manske, a Port High senior, was charged with stealing the gun from a house across from the high school in July.
Manske was stopped by police on his way to school Monday, Oct. 12, and subsequently arrested after police received several tips about the gun.
People interviewed by police, many of them Manske’s peers, said the Port Washington teenager kept the powerful handgun under the spare tire in the trunk of his car and showed it to them in a city parking lot that is next to the school and used as a student parking area during the school day, authorities said. Witnesses also told police Manske showed the gun to them in the parking lot of Culver’s restaurant in Port three or four weeks ago.
Manske’s arrest and the fact the gun remains missing triggered concerns among the parents of Port High students last week, some of whom kept their children home from school on Tuesday, Oct. 13. Authorities said there was no indication Manske intended to harm anyone with the gun.
Manske and Schires each posted $500 bail and have been released from the Ozaukee County jail.
Schires’ arrest sheds some light on the case, but Port Washington Police Chief Kevin Hingiss said this week that the investigation and search for the gun continue to be complicated by misinformation.
“There have been a lot of twists and turns in this investigation,” Hingiss said. “It would be a lot easier if people would tell us the truth.
“We’re still hoping somebody will come forward and tell us where the gun is.”
According to the criminal complaint filed in Ozaukee County Circuit Court, Schires was in Port Washington at the beginning of October for Port High’s homecoming and was given the gun by Manske in the Arby’s restaurant parking lot on the north side of the city.
Schires told police that he took the gun to his Madison-area home and kept it there for about a week until Manske came to retrieve it, the complaint states.
But, Hingiss said Tuesday, Schires changed his story and now contends Manske did not drive to the Madison area to retrieve the gun. Instead, Schires claims he showed the gun to a black man who took it from him in the Maple Bluff suburb of Madison, Hingiss said.
Schires told police that he reported to Maple Bluff authorities that the stolen gun in his possession was taken from him, but Port police have been unable to confirm that, Hingiss said.
“We believe Joshua Schires knows more than he’s telling us,” he said.
Schires’ version of events conflicts with statements from Manske, who according to the criminal complaint admitted taking the gun and ammunition from a house at 404 W. Jackson St. and keeping it in the trunk of his car, which was secured by a bungee cord.
But Manske told police he discovered the gun was missing from the trunk of his car on Oct. 9 and had no idea who took it, the complaint states.
Hingiss said police have obtained the serial number of the gun, which could help police track down the weapon if it is turned in or confiscated outside of Port Washington.
According to the rough description police have, the gun is a silver-colored Ruger .44 magnum revolver with a wooden handle.
Manske faces one felony count of theft of a gun, which is punishable by a maximum three years in prison and three years of extended supervision, and a misdemeanor charge of possession of a dangerous weapon by a person younger than 18, punishable by a maximum nine months in jail. He’s scheduled to appear in court again on Oct. 28.
Schires was released from jail Monday and ordered by Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Joseph Voiland not to possess firearms or have contact with Manske while free on bail.
He is scheduled to appear in court for a preliminary hearing on Nov. 5.
Police are asking people with information about the gun theft or the location of the weapon to contact them at 284-5575 or anonymously by texting to 847411, keyword PWPDTIP.
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV
Wednesday, 14 October 2015 19:49
Centerpiece of freshwater science program will be among features showcased in $45.6 million Port High
School district officials working to design a state-of-the-art school announced Monday that the new Port Washington High School will feature an aquaponics lab as the centerpiece of a freshwater science program that has already attracted the attention of college professors.
The concept of an aquaponics lab was born of suggestions made at community planning meetings and is one of several features of the $45.6 million project presented to the Port Washington-Saukville School Board Monday.
“One of the things we heard in the community meetings is that we need to take better advantage of our proximity to the lake,” Port High Principal Eric Burke said. “This will be a very unique feature of our school.”
The lab, which will be part of a new three-story academic wing built on the west side of the school, will be open to a main hallway — part of an effort to showcase the school’s innovative academic features.
“It will be in an open space that can be seen and touched,” Burke said.
Aquaponics combines aquaculture (the raising of fish) with hydroponics (the growing of plants without soil) in a symbiotic environment in which fish provide an organic food source for plants that in turn filter the water.
Although not large, Port High’s aquaponics lab will be capable of producing 1,000 pounds of fish and plants every year, Burke said.
Supt. Michael Weber said the lab was inspired by Port Washington’s proximity to the largest surface freshwater system on earth and recent community efforts to embrace the city’s location on Lake Michigan, among them an interactive downtown museum, regular visits from Discovery World’s Milwaukee-based tall ship and a sprawling lakefront nature preserve planned for the south side of the city.
“The work the community has been doing with the Exploreum, the Denis Sullivan and a preserve along the shore reminded us of the importance of learning about the lake,” Weber said. “We’re sitting on this large body of freshwater, and I think sometimes we take that for granted.
“An aquaponics lab and our freshwater science program will allow our students to learn about the lake and how to protect it.”
Chris Surfus, the district’s director of curriculum, said plans for the lab have already attracted the attention of educators at Concordia University Wisconsin in Mequon.
“They are very interested in our freshwater program,” she said. “They’re interested in sharing staff.”
Like the school’s Project Lead the Way facilities, which will include a classroom with glass walls to showcase the program, the aquaponics facility and focus on freshwater science is a reflection of the district’s desire not just to renovate an aging high school but create what will be an essentially new, cutting-edge academic facility on the site of the current school designed to educate generations of students.
“This project has to have a vision for the future,” Burke said, noting that a team of administrators and teachers have toured several new and remodeled schools around the state to glean ideas for an ideal high school.
“Parts of the current building are close to 100 years old. They have served their purpose. Now we have to design a building that will serve our purposes well into the future.”
In addition to a new academic wing, which will concentrate classrooms currently spread throughout the sprawling school in the north end of the building, the project will include the demolition of the oldest part of the school.
In its place, a new main entrance will be built that leads into a two-level commons and open cafeteria with large windows facing west.
Also in the new part of the school will be spacious band and choir rooms adjacent to the auditorium, which will undergo major renovations to include new seating as well as light and sound systems.
A new athletic building constructed on the south side of the school will house a large gym and other athletic facilities, including a fitness room with large windows facing southwest.
The current gym will be retained and used as an auxiliary athletic facility.
Bray Architects is finalizing designs while C.D. Smith, the construction management firm hired to oversee the project, is conducting a cost analysis to ensure the project is within budget, administrators said.
Initial soil borings indicate that the new sections of the school will be able to be built into the hillsides on the west and south sides of the school as planned, Director of Business Services Jim Froemming said.
“The six initial borings done of the bluff show good soil with a clay base and no rock, which is good,” he said.
Froemming said 36 more soil borings need to be done and an archeological study will be conducted to ensure construction crews don’t dig up any surprises during the project.
The district plans to seek bids for the project in March and start construction as soon as the weather allows in spring.
Work will begin with the construction of the academic wing and kitchen facilities. When those are completed, students and teachers will move into the classrooms and demolition of the oldest part of the school, slated for 2017, will begin. The current gym will be used as a cafeteria during this phase of the work.
The project is expected to be completed by the beginning of the 2019-20 school year.
Also included in the $49.4 million school improvement plan approved by voters in April is a $3.8 million, 13,000-square-foot addition to Dunwiddie Elementary School.
That work is scheduled to begin in spring with the construction of a new parking lot. Work on the addition to the front of the school, which will include needed classrooms, will begin as soon as the new lot is roughed in and is expected to be completed by the end of 2016.