Friday, October 16, 2009

Former High-Profile Milwaukee Ald. Mike D'Amato Hired As Waukesha Water Consultant

Former Milwaukee Alderman Michael D'Amato has been retained by a lobbying firm - - Martin Schreiber & Associates - - to help the City of Waukesha in its quest to obtain a diversion of Lake Michigan water through the City of Milwaukee.

D'Amato told me this week that his work will focus on the Milwaukee Common Council.

Schreiber & Associates, Waukesha's long-standing public relations and lobbying firm on Great Lakes water issues, confirmed for me today that it has a contract with D'Amato: I have no additional details.

The Common Council will play a role in the diversion process as early as later this month, when a request from the City of Waukesha will ask Milwaukee to supply a letter of intent to sell water: the letter, and similar letters that will be requested from Racine and Oak Creek, will be come part of Waukesha's diversion application.

Waukesha is putting its application on a fast-track, though Milwaukee does not need to jump through the hoops as Waukesha lays them out.

If Milwaukee were to be the eventual seller - - a decision down the road most likely measured in years - - the Common Council would become involved in water sales negotiations, and that is where D'Amato's work for Waukesha could be the most significant for Milwaukee interests.

That is because Milwaukee, by standing Council resolution, has said a water deal must include the seller's participation in a host of regional, socio-economic issues - - transit, housing, development and more.

At an informational meeting at Waukesha City Hall Monday, two Waukesha aldermen expressed concerns about these Milwaukee water sales conditions; D'Amato is in a good position to explain them to the Waukesha officials and residents.

D'Amato was viewed by many when he was 3rd District Alderman - - he left in 2008, and in the interest of full disclosure, my son Sam, D'Amato's staff aide at the time ran unsuccessfully for the seat - - as the Council's most powerful alderman, most skilled negotiator, and most versed in urban development because he had chaired the powerful Zoning and Development Committee - - ZND.

D'Amato will know the development and jobs value that could be added by sending Lake Michigan water to Waukesha, including to many square miles of open space and sparsely developed land available for annexation to Waukesha's west and south where thousands of new residents and jobs will be located.

Long committed to New Urbanism in Milwaukee, D'Amato can easily communicate to Waukesha the logic and merit in the Milwaukee diversion conditions, and help make sure also - - a) if Waukesha's application wins the approval of all eight Great Lakes states, and b) if Waukesha selects Milwaukee as the water seller, which is likely because Racine and Oak Creek's water is of lower quality, and is farther away - - that financial payments to Milwaukee for the water are comprehensive and in no way resemble the insufficient $75,000 annual water payment the Milwaukee alderman agreed to take from much-smaller New Berlin.

Since Milwaukee does not need to adhere to Waukesha's artificially-rushed timetable, D'Amato can help move positive discussions along - - and that would include urging the DNR to begin its crucial rule-making for diversion applications and...and this is really important...getting the concept of Tax-Based Sharing on the table.

Tax Base Sharing is an accounting method and regional revenue tool that can be used to compute the amount of property taxes that should be transferred between and among municipalities if an asset like water that adds value to property is also transferred between or among those municipalities.

Once Milwaukee's study on the true value of water is completed, then Tax Base Sharing experts can calculate the probable contribution of Lake Michigan water if it were moved to Waukesha and into new areas of development.

And then an agreement can be negotiated that establishes what fair percentage of that water-fueled increment could be shifted annually from Waukesha, the water buyer - - where the water boosts the property tax base - - to Milwaukee, the water seller.

Without Tax Base Sharing, Milwaukee could be cutting its own economic throat.

D'Amato is the perfect person to make sure these ideas are an integral part of the discussion so that if it is decided by local, Wisconsin, and other states' governments that Waukesha is to get Milwaukee water, there are guarantees that the water is not just a development subsidy that enables sprawl and helps move jobs and capital faster away from an already land-locked (by state law) City of Milwaukee already hammered by high unemployment and the steady flight of wealth to the suburbs.

As the Council's long-time urban development specialist, D'Amato's role could be pivotal, even historic, if the water negotiations with Waukesha proceed openly, broadly and comprehensively.


The Big Bopper said...

So D'Amato is back running things at City Hall.

Too bad it's in his new role:

Waukesha Economic Development Director.

The Big Bopper said...

This all sounds a little bit familiar.
Is D'Amato going to play for the Vikings now too?

Anonymous said...

It's certainly going to take skilled negotiators - on all sides - to get Milwaukee & Waukesha to agree. Especially when you put transit in the mix, not to mention tax sharing. Then to meet the terms of the Great Lakes Compact, the water must come back to the Lake. How much is Waukesha willing to spend, to get the water they need for survival & growth?

This regionalism stuff is hard to accept. But impossible to survive without.

Jay Warner,

Anonymous said...

Mike D'Amato did an amazing job of seeing to the decline of business on Downer Avenue. I'm sure he'll do the same for water in Waukesha--in no time they'll have even more radium in their water.

Let's go swimming.

James Rowen said...

To Anon;

I disagree that Mike harmed Downer Ave. Downer needed revitalization. There are still some empty storefronts, but the infill he worked for is a good thing for the district and for the City.

Do we want this development in the city, or at Pabst Farms?

Or dare I say it: in the new, annexation zone west and south of Waukesha where Lake Michigan water is headed?

Whale said...

I don't understand your point and can't really decide if you are actually trying to make one. Anon. has simply, and quite correctly, made the observation that D'Amato oversaw the Rape of Nanking on Downer Ave. during his tenure, by allowing his boys Danny and Boris to drive out shopkeepers through their absurd rent hikes. It's seemingly unimaginable that an area with such a high per capita income has such a distressed shopping district. Is your "infill" a reference to that god-awful parking structure? Of what value is infill if the existing businesses go belly up?