The future of the Waukesha Business Improvement District is extremely uncertain as a petition from property owners equaling 62.5 percent of the assessed property value in the BID are seeking to disband the taxing entity.
The BID has been in a state of upheaval for months – although some say problems have been occurring for years. After the former executive director resigned from her position citing bullying and a harassing work environment as the reason for her departure, the majority of the BID board resigned from their positions. After months of battling, the Common Council and the mayor finally came an agreement to appointment enough members and restore the board.
The BID’s existed since 1986. The Waukesha mayor appoints members to the Board of Directors, which are then approved by the Waukesha Common Council.
State statutes require the city to terminate its BID if property owners from more than 50 percent of the assessed value in the district petition to leave the district.
Downtown Waukesha resident Victoria Hekkers said she was saddened to be among those supporting the BID’s termination, adding she “just can’t see how we can salvage this.”
Hekkers feels changes in the BID’s operating plan, which was approved on an eight to five vote by the Common Council Tuesday night, does not use the special assessment funds in the way it originally was intended.
“The mayor told me he wanted to take down the BID,” Hekkers said during the Common Council.
Scrima denied making the statement after the council meeting.
Jeff Barta, owner of Nice Ash Cigar Bar, described the BID’s operating plan as a “money grab” for specific organizations in the BID. The board is “unbalanced” and the source of the “well publicized battle” was never investigated, he added.
“It is just another example of government’s lack of concern about spending other people’s money,” Barta said.
The petition will be examined by city staff, said City Attorney Curt Meitz, and if enough signatures are confirmed and criteria are met, the Plan Commission will hold a hearing with at least three days notice.
“It is like a cooling off period – 30 days – if people want to retract, they can retract,” Meitz said. “If people want to add their name, they can do it.”
Not Everyone Thrilled About Petition
Jim Taylor, co-owner of People’s Park and a BID board member, said he learned about the petition only an hour before the Common Council was going to review and vote on the BID’s operating plan. No one asked him to sign the petition or sought his opinion about the BID’s future, Taylor added.
“I am in favor of the BID board. I have always been in favor of the BID board,” Taylor said. “This confuses me greatly. I don’t understand why no one approached me to ask if I would sign the petition.”
Downtown Attorney Nick Martinez, also on the BID board, added that he learned about the petition at the last minute.
“Hearing about that at the 11th hour is disappointing,” Martinez said. “We worked really hard the last month to build the BID that could be something good for the city.”
Operating Plan Approved
While some aldermen wanted to hold off on approving the BID’s new bylaws and operating plan, the council voted eight to five to approve the revised plans for 2013.
The BID board will not be able to act during the review of the petition, said City Administrator Ed Henschel.
“I would still recommend to the city council that the proposed, amended bylaws be approved this evening so that the BID board can continue to at least exist,” Henschel said.
The plan states that BID board expenditures will be used for:
- Making the downtown more vibrant to enhance the business climate in the district
- Administration and management
- Downtown development and image enhancement
- Promotions and advertising of district businesses
- Physical appearance of the downtown
- Promote vacant properties for appropriate occupancy
The BID’s tax assessment was approved at $2.65 per $1,000 of assessed value – which is a decrease from the $2.80 per $1,000 of assessed value posted on the BID’s website.
Alderman Vance Skinner, who has been serving on the BID board for a short time period, said the process worked to bring a plan that had a fresh approach and allowed for more flexibility.
“We are grading it at an 'F' without even giving it a chance, and that doesn’t make sense to me,” said Skinner after other people mentioned the petition to disband the BID.
Alderman Adam Jankowski felt the plan should have another review before it passed given the sheer number of property owners who wanted to terminate the business district.
“That just shows that there is something going on … that is worth a second look,” Jankowski said. “I think we should provide the people with the ability to go back, see what is going on, attend more meetings and let their voice be heard.”