Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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City skate park project decision all about money

by Lisa Seiser

May 19, 2011

I find myself in an awkward position on this issue.

Being in favor of limited government at all levels doesn't match up with what I'm about to say.

The city of Lake Geneva should spend up to $300,000 of already collected Tax Incremental Financing District money to design, build and maintain a new skate/BMX park at Dunn Field behind Eastview Elementary School.

The current skate park is old and in need of tens of thousands of dollars in repair. Also, there's only so much that can be done with the park, which was built more than 10 years ago and is not state-of-the-art by any means. As Alderwoman Ellyn Kehoe said last week regarding the old park, "You can't make a silk purse out of of a sow's ear." She's right in that respect.

Now, in a new skate park, the ramps could be made of concrete, maybe even built right into the foundation like an inground swimming pool. It could look like a real park, not just fenced in ramps. The park could accommodate other users such as inline skaters, wheelchairs and other nonmotorized equipment. It would be more maintenance free because of the concrete design.

Ultimately, the sky's the limit, especially with some of the top designers and builders of skate parks in the world interested in working on the Lake Geneva park. And, it could become a special facility residents in Lake Geneva can be truly proud of. It would keep kids off the streets, giving these skaters and BMXers a place to go — away from skating or riding downtown or in Riviera Park.

But, the end result of a park isn't the concern here. There is little doubt whatever any of these top design firms would come up with in conjunction with the current skaters and BMXers in Lake Geneva would be great.

This is really all about the money.

Times are tough financially. There's no doubt about that. Some people have been affected more than others — some lost their jobs and some have lost their homes. Taxes and costs of living never seem to decrease no matter where you are.

But, this issue really is about TIF. If borrowing was necessary to build this park, I would not support it. I'm sure members of the Park Board would not have talked about it or worked for months discussing if borrowing was needed to make it a reality.

But, the fact is there's TIF money available — more than $5 million. It's already been collected from the taxpayers, already in the coffers, ready to be spent on desired projects to improve the city. About two years ago, the City Council scaled down its TIF project list from about $19 million to $12 million, but still designated up to $550,000 to be spent on a new skate park.

Other city projects people favored have reaped the benefits of TIF money. Without the TIF, most of them would never have been done. Among projects TIF money has been used to fund include the restrooms on the west end of Library Park, the Edwards Boulevard Extension, Riviera improvements and the Dunn Field/Eastview School parking lot. The skate park would be the least costly of all these other projects that have already been completed.

If the money in the TIF is not used and the district is closed, the money is returned and split between the taxing entities, including the schools, state, county and the city. That, along with an increase in valuation of the district because of the projects that were completed using the TIF, would lower the tax rate and help with the overall tax burden.

But, actually not spending the $300,000 for the skate park would have a negligible affect on the tax rate once the TIF is closed. Basically, that $300,000 would be a drop in the bucket when it comes to the city's tax rate — a dime per $1,000 of assessed value or $20 per household one time.

Once closed, TIFs can't later be reopened or re-created. That's it. With state levy limits and reduced aid, it will be difficult if not impossible for any municipality to set aside money for projects such as this. TIF gives the city a chance to fund projects like this it normally couldn't through annual budgeting and does so without municipal bonding or borrowing.

There are several services municipalities should provide — police and fire protection, quality roads and other infrastructure items we as individuals cannot provide on our own or through private enterprise. I see the skate park as the latter. The city builds and maintains tennis courts, soccer fields and volleyball courts. Why not a new, shining, state-of-the-art skate park that will last and be used for many years?

The money is there, it's ready to be used and it was designated for a skate park. It's time to use TIF money as intended and build a park to serve the youth of the city for years to come.

Seiser is the editor of the Regional News.