Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Village needs time to decide fate of Highway
Board considers TIF district, grants, referendum to proceed with project

by Rob Ireland

April 21, 2011

Walworth — Another discussion on the Highway 14 project brought a packed house to a joint meeting between the Village Board and Plan Commission Monday night.

Basically, two options are on the table. One would widen the turns around the village square. That plan would require the state to purchase and raze the Antique Mall and King Dragon.

The second option, which was developed by the village's Plan Commission, would require the state to purchase the Antique Mall and a neighboring home. Highway 14 would run completely north and south, eliminating all right-angle turns, but would bring the road closer to Walworth Elementary School.

The second option is seemingly the preferred plan for village representatives, but draws vehement opposition from school officials.

That option could cost local taxpayers an additional $400,000 because the Wisconsin Department of Transportation determined it would cost that much more than the other plan.

Last week, Walworth Elementary School District Administrator Pamela Knorr sent out a mass e-mail urging residents to attend the meeting to show opposition to the village-created plan.

"As we all know, bringing any highway any closer to school children is a significant safety issue and compromises the health and welfare of our valuable children," Knorr wrote in an e-mail sent to various community members.

Village President Todd Watters, who was serving in his last meeting in that position, said he has two children who attend the school and he is sensitive to the safety concerns.

Watters, who ran for trustee this April and not village president, said he has reservations about bringing the road closer to the school. If that plan is implemented, the road would run adjacent to the school's cafeteria.

Trustee David Rasmussen, who will soon be Village President, said the village's plan enhances safety because it requires students to cross only one major intersection, which he said will be more visible from the school.

Plan Commissioner Laurie Larson said, without committing to a preferred plan, she doesn't see how the first option benefits the village.

"You still have a dangerous intersection, a wider intersection for everyone to cross and we lose angle parking," she said.

Another issue is angle parking. If the Department of Transportation funds the entire project, the angle parking along North Main and Madison streets would be eliminated. Federal money can't be used on projects that include angle parking. To keep the angle parking, the village would have to fund that portion of the project, which would cost about $140,000.

What to do next?

Watters said the Village Board may want to have an advisory referendum to determine which plan residents prefer. Rasmussen suggested the village could send out surveys with water bills.

Rasmussen said the village also could consider creating a Tax Increment District to finance the alternative plan. Tax Increment Financing is a tool used to fund improvements using future tax increment. In theory, the tax increment wouldn't have been created without the improvements.

After the meeting, Watters, Rasmussen and Trustee Dennis Vanderbloemen said they would need more information about TIF districts before they could determine whether it would be a viable option for the village.

Sue Barker, an engineer with Crispell-Snyder said the start of the Walworth portion of the project has been delayed another year and is slated to begin in 2017.

She asked the board if it could commit to a timeline to make a decision. She also asked the board to keep in mind the DOT has a timeline, which Watters acknowledged.

"We may not exactly adhere to (the DOT's timeline), but we will be sensitive to it," Watters said.

Financing options

Village Planner Jamie Rybarczyk presented the board with five possibilities to help finance the $400,000 for the village's plan.

- A Community Development Block Grant for Public Facilities is a program undertaken to develop needed infrastructure. The CDBG-BF typically funds between 20 to 25 percent of a total project.

- Clean Water Fund Loan Program provides low-interest loans to local governments to construct or modify wastewater and stormwater systems.

- Local Transportation Enhancements Program funds a variety of non-traditional projects, with examples ranging from landscaping and scenic beautification to the mitigation of water pollution to highway runoff.

- Safe Routes to School encourages children to walk and bike to school safely. Projects must be within two miles of a school to be eligible. If granted, this award could completely fund the project.

- Creating a TID is the final option Rybarczyk presented. With a TID, the village would borrow against future increment that is created by improvements made to the area.