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Bay continues study of 'village center' TIF



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May 13, 2014 | 03:02 PM
WILLIAMS BAY — A Tax Increment Finance district covering the village business district might not generate huge amounts of money, but it might generate enough to help revitalize the downtown, according to planners from Vandewalle & Associates, Madison.

The village hired Vandewalle, which does planning services for Williams Bay, to do a TIF district feasibility study.

TIF districts provide funds for improvements.

The money comes from the annual increase in property taxes generated by increases in property values within the TIF district.

Scott Harrington and Dan Johns, planners with Vandewalle, met with village trustees at a village board personnel and finance committee meeting on May 8.

The trustees decided that they want to continue studying the benefits and costs of creating a TIF district within the village.

The planners said they will forward their final TIF analysis and report to the village board by early June.

If created, the planners said, it may not mean big money.

Harrington said the Williams Bay TIF district might create a tax increment of $50,000 a year.

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That doesn’t sound like much, but at $50,000 a year, the TIF could borrow up to $700,000 for improvements and incentives, he said.

“Fifty grand doesn’t buy much, but 700 grand buys an awful lot,” Harrington said.

Trustee Greg Trush, who worked in Chicago’s planning office, said only 3 to 5 percent of the village’s property is commercial.

The rest is mostly residential.

“We have no problem getting residential development,” he said.

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The key to a TIF district is growing the property values within it, so the TIF budget can grow and give the village money to work with, Harrington said.

The planners identified the “village center” as the possible boundary of the village TIF district.

It is centered on Geneva Street, roughly from Elkhorn Road (Highway 67) west to Clover Street, south of Geneva.

The area includes most or all of the village’s downtown businesses, along with some residential areas.

Harrington said those study boundaries can be changed at any time until the village creates the TIF.

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“But once you create a TIF, you start a clock that can’t be stopped,” Harrington warned. The village trustees must then focus on what projects they want to accomplish using TIF fund money and make sure the projects are completed.

TIF districts have 22 years to complete all planned projects before they must close.

In their study of the village center, the planners said, they found a number of commercial buildings in the downtown that seem to be at their peak usage.

Harrington said he doesn’t think those buildings would be prime candidates for renovations or improvements, because their owners are now realizing peak earning potential.

On the other hand, “the obvious commercial centers may not be the commercial centers 15 years from now,” he said.

“What the village needs are cooperative property owners who are looking for a buyer or a partner to work with,” Harrington said.

They also acknowledged that not all of the cities and villages have had good experiences with their TIF districts, either.

“Considering some of the failures our neighbors had, is this time right to create a TIF?” asked Village President John Marra.

Yes, replied Harrington, “Developers who survived the crash are now looking for things to do,” he said. “There are people out there looking for projects.”

Harrington warned that TIF is essentially a debt-funding vehicle.

The basis of TIF is that “we have something we need today, but we have a source of revenue to pay it off in the future.”

The village must avoid the “we built it and now they will come” mentality, he said.

“There’s no sense in creating a TIF district and then thinking, ‘We created a TIF district and we’re done,’” Harrington said.

He said the village will need a sustained effort during the first few years to recruit developers and partner them with property owners who want to sell.

He said the village also needs to know what the property owners in the TIF district want to do with their properties.

Trustee David Jameson said he was all for the village continuing its study of a TIF district. He said that if the village goes ahead with a TIF, it will need to have a project that “gets everyone excited.”

“That’s the key, finding the right project,” Jameson said. “It makes the rest of the TIF goals easier.”

After the meeting, Trush said when he first moved to Williams Bay, he didn’t think the village needed a TIF. Now, he’s starting to change his mind.

“We have older buildings that need repair,” said Trush. “We need to get a tool to offer developers an incentive. Right now, we have nothing,” he said.

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