Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 13 November 2013 19:17
Works committee endorses project that calls for removing fences, expanding walkways
Port Washington’s Board of Public Works on Tuesday endorsed a plan to improve access to the north beach by beautifying and expanding the walkways leading to it.
“We should try to make access to the beach something people will enjoy, not endure,” Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven said. “We should invite people to the beach and highlight our walkway along the lake.
“The idea is to get a move on and ideally build this before next summer.”
The current east walkway doesn’t say “Welcome to the north beach,” he said, but instead declares, “This isn’t where I should be.”
The plan calls for making the east sidewalk around the wastewater plant the main entrance to the beach by removing much of the chain link-and-barbed wire fencing, widening the walkway by 10 feet and perhaps removing the lightpoles that currently punctuate the path.
The path would be wide enough that police could drive a squad car onto the beach in case of an emergency, Vanden Noven said.
To ensure security at the wastewater treatment plant, ornamental fencing would be used, primarily on the far east and north ends of the walkway, he added.
“I think removing the prison fence will change the perspective immediately,” board member Jason Wittek said.
A direct route from the parking lot to the walkway would also be created, making it easier for people to find the sidewalk, Vanden Noven said.
The mishmash of existing signs at the south end of the walkway also would be removed.
“What a great idea,” Ald. Mike Ehrlich, a member of the board, said. “Widening the path there so people don’t have to just squeeze by is a great idea.”
The existing western walkway, which is difficult to find and poorly identified, would become the secondary access, Vanden Noven said. The existing chain link-and-barbed wire fence would be moved and an ornamental gate added.
While many people have suggested that the city move the wastewater treatment plant off the lakefront, that’s cost prohibitive, Vanden Noven said, estimating the price tag at $80 million.
“For a fraction of that cost, we can maybe not disguise the plant but make it blend in better and improve access to the beach,” he said.
In 1992, when the plant was expanded, lake levels were high and there was virtually no sandy beach north of the facility, making access an afterthought at best, Vanden Noven said.
But today, there is a wide beach north of the plant. Although the city has worked to improve access to it, most recently building a public staircase from Upper Lake Park, none of the existing walkways is handicapped accessible.
“I think this is a great idea at a millifraction of the cost of moving the plant,” Mayor Tom Mlada told the board, adding the plan balances plant operations with public access to the beach. “The bang you get for your buck is profound.
“You can see the way this would be transformational. And to get it done before next summer would be huge.”
The city could tap the wastewater utility’s reserve fund for the estimated $250,000 needed for the project, Vanden Noven said.
That cost, however, does not include the cost of rebuilding a retaining wall that runs along the western path, nor the cost of painting a mural on the tanks at the treatment plant, he said.
The proposed changes would emphasize the lakefront while minimizing the effect of the wastewater treatment plant, Vanden Noven said. “This says this is a beach entrance that has access to a wastewater treatment plant (as a secondary purpose),” he said — not a plant that just happens to have a beach walkway around it.
The board recommended hiring the Milwaukee-based firm of Clark-Dietz Engineers for $26,400 to design the improvements — something the Common Council will consider when it meets Tuesday, Nov. 19.
Clark-Dietz would partner with SAA Design Group, which worked on Rotary Park, to do the work, Vanden Noven said.
The companies would consider not only the concept endorsed by the board but other designs as well, he said.
“These are just my ideas,” Vanden Noven said. “There may well be other, better ones out there.”
The contract calls for a design charrette, a one-on-one meeting with “stakeholders,” such as wastewater plant employees, emergency responders and beach-goers, to be held, as well as a public information meeting, Vanden Noven said.
According to a preliminary timetable, there would be a project kickoff meeting in early December. The design charrette could also be held in December.
Concept drawings and alternatives would be presented to the city in January, and the final project sent out for bids in February or March.
This isn’t the only measure the city would take to improve the waterfront next year.
Vanden Noven said the city plans to plant some low-growing sumacs and other plantings near the top of the bluff to screen the wastewater treatment plant from visitors parking in the lot above the facility.
Image Information: THE NARROW PATH that leads along the east side of the Port Washington wastewater treatment plant to the north beach could be replaced by a wider, more welcoming walkway by next summer if a recommendation by the Board of Public Works is approved by the Common Council next week.
Photo by Sam Arendt
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 06 November 2013 18:59
Downtown store, property owners voice frustration over deteriorating relationship between group, city
Downtown Port Washington business and property owners expressed their frustration with the deteriorating relationship between the city and Port Main Street Inc., an organization devoted to promoting the downtown, last week during a meeting intended to set goals for the group.
The city’s decision not to make its traditional $25,000 contribution to Main Street in response to what officials characterized as the mismanagement of money used to host the Rock the Harbor Harley-Davidson anniversary celebration in August.
“We had one bad event, but how about all the good ones?” asked Main Street board member Marcia Endicott, who said the city has treated the group “very poorly” in the wake of Rock the Harbor.
The festival lost roughly $20,000, but despite that fact, some people at the meeting called the event a success because it drew many people to the city and the businesses downtown.
Several of the roughly 50 business owners were so frustrated they said the Business Improvement District, which funds Main Street via an assessment on downtown properties, should be dissolved, effectively ending funding for Main Street. In its place, they said, a voluntary merchants’ association could be created to serve downtown.
“If we have a voluntary organization, we don’t have to have the city tell us what we’re doing,” said Jim Vollmar, an owner of the Port Harbor Center.
Vollmar said Monday that some property owners have circulated a petition to dissolve the BID, adding he believes there are enough signatures to file it with the city.
“There are a lot of business people who are angry,” he said.
A petition seeking to dissolve the BID must be signed by property owners whose buildings make up half the equalized valuation of the district — a figure Vollmar said is $17 million.
But Neil Tiziani, president of the BID board, said the organization is important to downtown.
“I think that (filing a petition) is a mistake,” he said. “The same people who signed the petition will be back in two or three years yelling at the city that we need to do something that will focus on downtown.
“A lot of progress has been made in the past two or three years. We don’t want to throw that away.”
Vollmar said business owners’ anger stems from city actions, starting this summer with Mayor Tom Mlada’s recommendation that the Main Street board give full voting rights to three ex-officio members.
At the Oct. 31 meeting, Vollmar took exception to many of the city’s actions, especially the fact that the Common Council on Tuesday approved the BID tax, which is imposed on downtown buildings, without having the organization’s operating plan for the coming year.
Vollmar advocated filing a petition to disband the BID, adding it could be withdrawn if the plan is something the business owners support, he said.
“The city’s got to understand they have to cooperate with us,” Vollmar said. “They can’t use our money the way they want to use it. We have to make sure it’s used correctly.”
The city needs to make its $25,000 contribution to Main Street if it wants to be a partner in the organization, he added.
“If the city won’t put $25,000 in, why should the building owners (finance it)?” Vollmar asked. “This is economic development for the city.”
City Administrator Mark Grams noted that the $25,000 is still in the proposed 2014 budget but no longer earmarked for Main Street. The city can still tap it for downtown projects, he said.
“I think what the council’s waiting for is to see what happens with Main Street and with BID,” Grams said. “Things have been running fairly smoothly over the last couple years. This year, we hit a bump. We’re trying to get through it.”
Vollmar also said the city needs to treat business owners better.
“We are owed an apology, then we can talk about whether to have a BID,” he said, citing the city’s criticism of the Main Street board in the aftermath of Rock the Harbor.
“Why would the city berate a bunch of volunteers who are trying to do something for the good of the city?” he asked. “That one bad event should not change everything.”
Not everyone agreed that dissolving the BID is an effective strategy.
John Weinrich, owner of NewPort Shores restaurant, suggested the BID could operate but not disperse funds until the organization has come up with a plan everyone could support.
“To make a decision on getting rid of the BID is probably not a good thing to do,” said Doug McManus, an owner of the building that houses Twisted Willow restaurant. “We’re used to paying that tax. Why not give it a year and let things settle down?
“There’s a lot of distrust right now.”
Members of the BID board, noting Main Street’s precarious financial position since Rock the Harbor, have said they would consider taking over the Main Street program while it gets its finances and goals in order.
“The intent would not be that BID would be Main Street forever,” said Wayne Chrusciel, owner of Fireworks Popcorn and a BID board member.
Tiziani said there is value in both groups and the board wants to preserve that.
“The BID we have now is interested in fixing the problems there are,” he said. “At the end of the day, there’s a lot of great things that have come from it.”
At Thursday’s meeting, the business and building owners came up with a list of five things they want the group to work on.
The top item was improved communications, followed by downtown events, beautification, improved website and a marketing and branding campaign.
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 30 October 2013 18:19
Port committee recommends new policy on services it says would add $10,000 in revenue to 2014 budget
Festivals in Port Washington will be charged for any overtime costs incurred by city departments if a new policy recommended by the Finance and License Committee is adopted by the Common Council.
The committee estimated this would add $10,000 in new revenue to the proposed $8.8 million 2014 budget.
This is the second year the committee has sought an increase in the amount it receives for services provides to festivals. Last year, the panel proposed imposing a surcharge on beer sold at festivals to help make up for overtime paid to city employees — a proposal dropped after the city attorney said it was illegal.
The committee talked about a number of ways to recoup some of the city’s costs, including charging for both straight-time and overtime costs, before settling on charging festivals only for overtime, City Administrator Mark Grams said.
“I think people are starting to understand you can’t expect everything and anything from the city any more,” Grams said. “It’s just not going to happen.
“We have limited resources. The people who directly benefit from those services are being asked to pay for these services.”
Budgets are too tight for the city not to consider imposing such a fee, he said, adding that time spent working for these festivals could otherwise be spent doing other things.
Grams said Fish Day will likely incur the greatest cost under the formula.
Calculations by the police, street and parks and recreation departments show that they incurred $10,761 in overtime costs for Fish Day.
Maritime Heritage Festival incurred $196 in police overtime costs and Rock the Harbor, a one-time festival, $5,285 in police and parks and recreation department overtime. The two combined for a total of $209 in overtime costs from the street department
While the recommendation was unanimously approved by the committee, Grams said there will likely be opposition from some of the festivals when the Common Council holds its annual budget hearing at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19.
The city’s proposed 2014 budget reflects an increase of 1.85%, from $8.64 million to $8.8 million.
The tax levy is expected to increase 1.84%, from $4.8 million to $4.9 million.
Although he does not have the city’s assessed valuation yet, Grams said he is estimating the tax rate will increase about five cents. That would make the rate about $5.80 per $1,000 assessed valuation, an increase of $10 for a house valued at $200,000.
The budget is largely a status-quo one, he said, with few initiatives.
The budget will allow the police department to convert several more vehicles to propane fuel, a process that began this year, but the associated cost savings probably won’t be realized for another year, Grams said.
The city also reallocated the $25,000 it traditionally gave to Port Main Street Inc., placing it instead in the economic development fund.
The city is also expected to purchase a new dump truck for the street department and an intercept vehicle for the ambulance service.
The city is expected to borrow about $200,000 next year to help finance several projects, including repairs on the streets around Port Washington High School and on Milwaukee Street, sidewalk repairs and a new phone system, Grams said.
“The telephone system here is antiquated,” he said, noting it was installed in the late 1990s. When it needed repairs several months ago, officials were told there were no parts available, Grams said.
The city’s operating costs are expected to be lower with the new system, he added.
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 23 October 2013 17:45
Citing lack of trust in group, finance committee opts not to allocate usual $25,000 contribution
Port Main Street Inc.’s request for $25,000 from the city to finance its operations next year was rejected Tuesday by members of the Finance and
License Committee — the first time since the organization’s inception five years ago that it will not receive city funds.
There are too many differences between the two for the city to continue funding the group, committee members agreed, including the makeup of the
Main Street board and the role of its executive director.
“We’ve come up with a lot of things we don’t agree on,” Ald. Dave Larson, the committee chairman, said. “Maybe it is time the city steps away and
allows you to run your organization the way you see fit.”
It’s also a matter of trust, Larson said.
“Main Street doesn’t have a lot of trust in the city, and the city doesn’t have a lot of trust in Main Street. That makes it difficult to move ahead,” he said.
The group’s response to the loss of what Main Street members said was roughly $20,000 on Rock the Harbor, an August celebration of Harley
Davidson’s 110th anniversary, was also cited by the committee as a reason for its decision.
Main Street has yet to take responsibility for the situation or develop controls to ensure the situation doesn’t repeat itself, committee members said.
“My constituents have said clear and crystal, ‘Why are you giving money to an organization that didn’t have controls to keep it from losing $20,000 for
an event?’” Ald. Doug Biggs, a committee member, said.
Jim Biever, president of the Main Street board of directors, said in an interview after Tuesday’s meeting he was surprised and disappointed by the
“We don’t have a plan B yet,” Biever said. “We’ll have to adjust our budget appropriately. We’ll scale back a few things. Right off the bat, I can’t say
what those things might be.”
Marcia Endicott, a member of the Main Street board, questioned whether the city supports the organization.
“Would you like Main Street to dissolve?” she asked committee members. “That’s what I’m picking up tonight.”
Committee members said they value what Main Street has done for the community but question its checks and balances, particularly in the wake of
the Rock the Harbor losses.
While the committee recommended cutting the city’s subsidy for Main Street, aldermen left intact the $1.84 per $1,000 assessment it imposes on
downtown property owners to support the Business Improvement District. The assessment generates about $60,000, with $55,000 typically allocated to
Main Street for its operations.
However, in reviewing the BID budget Tuesday, the committee stressed that it wants the organization to more closely oversee the use of those funds.
“We don’t want that to continue,” agreed Scott Huebner, a member of both the BID and Main Street boards. “The group (BID board) feels there needs
to be accountability.”
Biggs said he wants the BID to require Main Street to pay off its debts and make up its deficit before it receives any BID funds.
“They have to be whole before they get a dime,” he said. “They’ve got to get 2013 sorted out.”
Committee members recommended the $25,000 previously spent on Main Street be earmarked for economic development throughout the city.
“This city needs more industry,” said Ald. Bill Driscoll, a member of the committee. “I think it’s just time to move on and spend this on developing the
entire city and trying to draw industry here.”
All the downtown businesses combined won’t hire 100 additional people in the coming years, he said, but one large industry might, and that would
help support the community as a whole and the downtown businesses that make up Main Street.
However, aldermen said, the funds could also be used to help finance a Main Street project in the future if necessary and appropriate.
The Main Street budget presented to the Finance and License Committee predicted the group would take in $142,000 next year, including the
$25,000 city contribution and $55,000 from the BID.
The bulk of the rest of the revenue would come from events and fundraising. Biever noted that the budget anticipates significantly more in fundraising
proceeds than have been collected in the past, showing a commitment by the board of directors.
But aldermen were skeptical of the group’s ability to meet the fundraising goals.
“These are aggressive numbers,” Biggs said.
The expenditure side of the budget shows Main Street spending $134,800, resulting in a surplus of $7,200 by the end of next year.
Biever told the committee that the budget also anticipates that Main Street will end 2013 with a deficit of $2,500, provided its Comedy Night is
successful and brings in the expected $4,000.
However, committee members noted that the organization hasn’t paid $3,000 it awarded to businesses in facade grants this year, bringing the total
deficit to $5,500.
Tuesday’s discussion largely centered on Rock the Harbor, which put Main Street in a precarious financial position even though the organizers had
promised repeatedly that the event would not tap into the organization’s funds.
When asked, Biever said the festival probably cost Main Street $20,000, adding commissions are continuing to trickle in so final numbers aren’t
available. All the bills from the festival are in, he added.
Main Street officials repeatedly said many businesses had record profits during Rock the Harbor, Larson said, suggesting the organization try to get
these businesses to make up the projected deficit.
“I would think you could collect that $5,500 easily and they would still have record days,” he said.
Main Street did approach businesses for funding but was unsuccessful, Biever said.
“That’s surprising,” Biggs said. “It seems a few businesses benefitted and an entire organization took it on the chin.”
Larson said the city has asked the Main Street board to be accountable for the mistakes of Rock the Harbor, but hasn’t seen any tangible results.
“You talk a lot about lessons learned and accountability,” he said. “We asked the board to look at itself. We used the term ‘blow up the board.’ I think
there should be some reorganization of the board.”
The committee questioned what Main Street is looking for in a new director, and whether the $36,000 salary is enough to attract the quality candidate
the position requires.
Dan Micha, a member of the Main Street board, said the new director should be charged with raising enough money to cover the cost of his salary,
with a bonus proportional to additional funds the director raises.
Larson questioned this, noting the National Main Street Center specifically says fundraising is a board function, not a job for the executive director.
The committee also asked about the board’s decision to omit a requirement to follow the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law from its bylaws, and its
decision Monday to reinstate it at the city’s prompting.
“The fact it took so long makes me nervous,” Larson said.
“It was a mistake on our part,” Biever said. “It blew up in our face.”