Saturday, January 19, 2008

Sharing Taxes From Development Could Help New Berlin Win A Water Deal, Waukesha Consultant Wrote

A few years ago, an attorney working for the City of Waukesha Water Utility said in a memo that sharing tax revenues from new development could be a factor in convincing the City of Milwaukee to sell Lake Michigan water.

I have blogged about this memo more than once, and now I can finally post an online link to the memo, and in the same file, the written response from the water utility distancing itself from the memo, all of which is here.

Ultimately, the water utility declined to pay the bill for the memo's preparation, then settled for a small portion of the total.

All that history is here - - along with State Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin), suggesting that Milwaukee is interested in extorting money from the suburbs for water.

(Expect that kind of opposition from the suburbs to become even hotter, since it gets to the nub of what a lot of that opposition is all about: moolah.)

Many observers believe that if water deals are approved to the suburbs under the regional, cooperative eight-state Great Lakes Compact - - deals that would include return of water to the lake and conservation measures, too - - payment for the water will have to include money more than a simple, per-gallon charge, and will have to bring in housing, transportation and other related regional issues, too.

That's because as the memo points out, and it's common knowledge, too, development has moved from the city to the suburbs, and along with it, jobs and tax-base expansion.

Taxable property is the revenue life-blood of Wisconsin municipalities, so a water-selling community could end up damaging its ability to provide basic services to its citizens, visitors, commercial properties and infrastructure if it made a deal for water that chipped away at the city's tax base.

And those losses would happen regardless of the income that might come in on the supply, much of which would be eaten up meeting the fixed costs of the selling city's water utility.

Selling what is essentially a priceless resource requires the creation of an entirely new balance sheet to make sure that the liability to the seller does not overwhelm whatever income is derived.

Tax-base sharing, or as the memo calls it, "tax sharing," are methods to share the fruits of new development and help protect the seller while providing the resource the buyer wants.

With Lake Michigan water certainly believed to be an asset that would fuel the creation of new industry and the building of residential properties that could tout access to the new, fresh water supply, tax sharing of some sort becomes logical.

Finding the documents as I did through Open Records law procedures in the files of the Waukesha Water Utility about a year-and-a-half ago was a surprise.

Publicizing it then and again now continues to genuinely inform the diversion debate, especially as Compact legislation is poised for introduction into the Wisconsin legislature before the end of the month, and the rules and ramifications of diversions can finally be comprehensively addressed.


Jim Bouman said...
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Jim Bouman said...

Forget about any sharing of the expected and awaited tax revenue that should derive from building-out the 13 sq.miles of unincorporated land south and west of Waukesha. The residents of the first of those new upscale subdivisions have already spoken on the issue of taxes. They are not going to like the idea of SHARING them. Their demand: LOWER them.

They seem to believe that they pay more taxes than anyone else and therefore deserve more say in decisions about such things as the location of watertowers (cf. Tallgrass) and the placement of fire stations ("We demand a new one close to our street--but no so close that we have to look at it".)

And the never-ending lamentation about how they are being taxed to death because of library expansion (we don't need libraries; we have the internet) and Parks/Recreation (we don't need parks, we have park-like lots) and schools (too much money wasted on bi-lingual ed. for the children of people who clean our houses and mow-and-blow our park-like lots).

There's gonna be a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth over the "class war" on the beleaguered, overextended yuppies in their tract mansions--tract mansions with hallucinated market values that appear to be dropping like a stone.

It is time for a thorough house- cleaning at the Waukesha Water Utility Commission.

Start with President Daniel Warren, 20 years on the 5-member Commission, convicted a year ago Driving under the Influence; cited and fined six months before that for violation of the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law, albeit while serving on a different public body--the Waukesha School Board. Will somebody find me a reference to an opinion--just one--that this kind of long-term domination of a small, secretive, unelected body is healthy in a democratic society?

Secretary Gerald Couri, 14 years (same caveat about long-term membership/leadership position in a small, clubby, unelected group) on the Water Utility Commission. Once a couple of years ago missed more than half of the meetings over a period of about 13 months--and they only meet once a month.

Commissioner Greg Zinda exudes nothing so much as an air of timidity, seems to have no inclination to take a leadership role, virtually always votes WITH the leadership on any issue.

Commissioner Peggy Bull, Alderman, recently appointed, and giving every appearance of buying in wholeheartedly to the notion of the people's business done in secret.

Commissioner ex officio, Mayor Larry Nelson. This says it all: he didn't merely doze; he snored through most of a full fifteen minutes at the December meeting during an important briefing by a technical consultant. How do I know he slept? I sat within four feet of his chair, a chair which I personally poked unobtrusively with my foot in an (unheeded) attempt to spare him further embarrassment. He appoints all the other Commissioners.

Is it any wonder that The Waukesha Water Utility rejected advice from a consultant that even hinted at the idea of treating water from Lake Michigan, delivered through the instrumentality of the City of Milwaukee, that seemed to hint at this as a shared resource.

They recoiled at the notion of any quid pro quo. The only way to get reasonably good performance out of the Water Utility Commission is to start fresh--1. A new group of commissioners. 2. More members of the Commission. 3. Term limits. 4. Pressure to stop holding critical meetings in closed--that is, secret--sessions. 5. Close examination of the money spent on consultants and a close reading of what the consultants are trying to accomplish.