Downtown Waukesha BID Board looks to offer new plan with termination process underway

Published on: 3/12/2013

Could the downtown Waukesha Business Improvement District be saved?

It appears despite the downtown Waukesha Business Improvement District being essentially on life support, the board will reconvene Wednesday night to offer a new plan.

The meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Randall Room 207 inside Waukesha City Hall, takes place a week after a public hearing was held on the termination of the BID, a taxing district in downtown Waukesha.

During this meeting, the board will reconsider the 2013 budget that was a point of contention and a reason for property owners sending out a petition to have the BID disbanded.

According to the agenda released by City Hall Monday afternoon, City Administrator Ed Henschel and BID Board President Bill Huelsman are now requesting that $20,000 cover traditional BID-supported events, such as the Farmers Market (the Waukesha Downtown Business Association is running the event this year with the BID in a state of flux) and the Christmas Parade.

This would be a major reduction from the 2013 Operating Budget that was originally approved but later rescinded by the Common Council where more than $63,000 was going toward the "grants" category.

However, this number would be more in line with the $17,800 that was used in 2012.

The remaining funds of the BID, according to the agenda, would go to hire a full-time clerical person to work in the downtown office (something the new BID Board said it wanted to eliminate), web-site support to promote downtown businesses and provide a calendar of events, resume the vacancy listing for downtown businesses and to resume street/sidewalk sweeping and flower watering.

While changes could be made to the BID's operating plan and bylaws, the termination process is underway.

The assessed value of the property of the owners who signed the petition totaled around $31.45 million. That number is more than the 50 percent of the total assessed property of the BID (a requirement according to state statutes to have a BID disbanded), which is around $52.37 million.

According to state statutes, property owners in the BID district have until April 5 to add or remove their name to the petition.

But in order for the BID to be saved, owners with more than a combined $4 million in assessed property value would have to remove their name from the petition.

How Wednesday's meeting turns out could determine if property owners take their name off the petition.

“I think this boils down to if there is any chance for the BID to continue the board needs to decide whether they want to present something different and then it depends on whether the property owners want to accept that,” said Shawn Reilly, a downtown attorney and a former BID president, at last week's public hearing. “It’s quite simple. It’s up to the BID Board.”

Catherine Huelsman, of Berg Management in downtown Waukesha, said the BID Board hasn't listened to property owners.

"I've been to so many meetings that refer to the BID as a funding source," Huelsman said. "It's not a funding source. It's a voluntary tax that the property owners pay. For the BID to continue it's got to respond to the property owners.

"If the intent is to save the BID there has to be assurance that the Board will represent the people paying the tax."

The Waukesha BID, formed in 1985, is the oldest BID in the state and the tax that property owners pay has been used for an executive director and other part-time staff to help recruit and retain businesses, maintain the area, promote/market the downtown and put on events.

The BID Board, however, fell apart last year when its executive director resigned due to a "hostile work environment."

Eleven of the 13 board members, who make up downtown BID committees, then resigned amid the allegations.

And the Common Council and Mayor Jeff Scrima struggled to find replacements as the Council said the mayor wasn't bringing forth a variety of candidates to represent all the views of the downtown.

Scrima, however, said his choices were more than enough and that the aldermen were holding up the process.

Ultimately, they settled on an eight-person board (it was previously 13), with four new members and four from the old board - two were the individuals who didn't originally resign.

City Administrator Ed Henschel, one of the new board members who asked the mayor to be on the board, drew up the new plan that would eliminate the executive director position to save on administrative expensives so more of the BID tax could be spent on downtown events, some of which are run by other organizations as well as streetscape, banners and decorations.

Three meetings were held with the new board in January, but immediately its plan drew backlash from property owners and the petition was formed to have the BID disbanded. The board has not met since Jan. 24.