Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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TIF District now official

by Rob Ireland

October 27, 2011

WALWORTH — It's official. The village now has a Tax Increment Financing District, which could fund an alternative route for Highway 14 and provide economic incentives to developers.

TIF is a tool used to fund projects within a designated area of a community. The funds are generated by tax dollars that are created through development or improvements within the district.

The proposed TIF district would include the Windmill Meadows Condominiums, which is set for a foreclosure sale in December; parts of the village's industrial park, including Onvoy; and the former Pick 'n Save location.

On Tuesday, Oct. 18, the Joint Review Board voted 3-2 to create the TIF district. The Joint Review Board consists of six members — representatives from Walworth County, the village of Walworth, Walworth Elementary School, Gateway Technical College, Big Foot High School and a citizen from the community. Each of the schools have a half a vote. The representatives from Walworth County and both schools voted against the creation of the district.

At past meetings, Village President David Rasmussen said he is expecting a $5 million development coming to the village in the near future. As village president, Rasmussen said he is privy to information that can't be shared publicly because it involves private real estate transactions.

One of the major projects included in the TIF district will be funding a $400,000 reroute of Highway 14 traffic.

The village plans to acquire the Antique Mall and an adjacent home to reroute Highway 14 along the west side of the square, which would stop semis from making 90-degree turns around the square. However, this plan played a role in all three of the no votes for the district.

Walworth Elementary School District Administrator Pam Knorr said the school district has historically opposed TIF districts and voted against creating one about 20 years ago.

"The funding also included a plan to route the highway through our parking lot and I don't feel that was correct," Knorr said.

Knorr has headed an effort to oppose the village's plan for Highway 14, and has hosted meetings at the school with concerned residents. Knorr said although the committee hasn't met over the summer months, it will host meetings again to make sure the Department of Transportation hears their concerns.

"Until the DOT makes their final decision we want to make sure that citizens, namely parents, will be listened to," Knorr said. "We still remain dedicated to safeguarding our children and the integrity of our property."

Big Foot High School District Administrator Dorothy Kaufmann said she was concerned about locking tax dollars into a TIF district for the next 20 years.

"There were also concerns on the impact on the square and at Walworth School," Kaufmann said. "There were clearly the votes there for it to pass. I hope the project goes well. Walworth needs development and it would be good to get it into the area."

Walworth County Comptroller Jessica Lanser was instructed by the county's Finance Committee to vote against the district.

Lanser said the county requested the project plan not include the rerouting of Highway 14, which was located a half mile outside of the proposed TIF district.

"We wanted to wait to see what happened with the development and whether that 1/2 mile is really needed," Lanser said.

However, the village wanted to create the district before the new development occurs. Walworth's TIF proposal isn't the only one county officials have opposed.

Lanser said the county objected to a TIF district in the city of Whitewater and also one in the village of Sharon.

What are the other projects?

The project plan for Walworth's TIF district totals $1.9 million, which includes spending $500,000 in development incentives for nonresidential development.

However, the lion's share of the project plan, just about $1 million, will be spent on utility, road and sidewalk improvements.

A proposed improvement within the industrial park would be building a road directly from Onvoy to Highway 14.