Property owners in downtown have mixed feelings about paying taxes to the Business Improvement District – and that contention could lead to the BID’s demise.
Some property owners feel the BID, which was established in 1987, is a necessary part to the operations of downtown Waukesha. Others are concerned about recent changes to the operating plan that would focus more on events. But some just don’t want the expense of additional taxes.
More than 60 percent of property owners downtown are asking for the BID to be dissolved after contentious relationships downtown ended with the BID executive director resigning in July, citing a hostile working environment for her departure.
The petition is under review and if property owners do not change their minds about the BID’s future, it could disband in early April.
The BID’s operations are funded by a special tax assessment paid by property owners in downtown Waukesha. For one Waukesha property owner who spoke at a public hearing Wednesday night before the Waukesha Plan Commission, not paying the BID taxes would be a welcome relief.
“I am on a verge of losing everything,” said one man, who identified himself as a downtown property owner. “I just need help getting the building sold. The extra money I have to pay for the BID is not helping.”
However, losing the BID would be a “great disservice” for Waukesha, said Dan Italiano, the owner of Magellans.
Italiano was quick to admit he hasn’t always been a fan of BID directors, however, he said the BID always made sure everything was “looking good downtown.”
“No one puts as much heart and soul in it like they did,” Italiano said. “I think it will be a shame to see it go.”
Other property owners were frustrated with the new bylaws and operating plan that were recently passed. Calling the changes “the new regime,” another property owner said he was frustrated that property owners weren’t given opportunities participate in the operating plan and budget process.
“You presented to us a whole new ball game,” the man said.
Plan Commissioner Kevin Larson read a letter to the commission from property owner Phil Lee, who was unable to be at the meeting. Lee was willing to give the new operating plan a chance, the letter said, but with the increased “animosity” downtown, the city should just "give the BID a decent burial.”
Catherine Huelsman of Berg Management simply called for greater representation by the BID board if the BID is to remain downtown.
“We as property owners … we have not seen that that has been the case,” Huelsman said. “If there is really an intention to save the BID, there has to be an assurance that the board will represent the people who are paying the taxes.”
The Waukesha Common Council rescinded its approval of the BID’s special assessment Tuesday night, effectively voiding its operating plan. The move was done in an effort to save the BID from disrepair.
Alderman Roger Patton fought for the changes Tuesday and became emotional Wednesday evening as he again tried to keep the BID alive.
“The board is not set in its ways,” said Patton, who was among BID members to resign during tumultuous times. “Last night we showed that people we will listen. There is hope.”