Downtown Waukesha property owners look to disband BID

Published on: 2/5/2013

After a year of controversy, a new downtown Waukesha Business Improvement District Board was just formed.

But could it all be short-lived?

City of Waukesha Mayor Jeff Scrima received a petition from almost 63 percent of downtown property owners requesting that the BID be disbanded.

Property owner Jeff Barta, a co-owner of Nice Ash Cigar Bar in downtown Waukesha, said there needed to be at least 50 percent of the property owners on the petition.

From his understanding on the state statute, the property owners on the petition will address the Plan Commission in the future.

The BID is a special assessment district that encompasses a 21-block area in downtown Waukesha.

Commercial property owners in the district pay $2.80 per $1,000 of property assessment to the BID. The tax assessment funds the BID budget.

But Barta said many property owners felt that they "had no choice given the current vision of the BID."

Barta, who signed the petition, said he was upset with how the new BID Board was eliminating the executive director position.

Meghan Sprager, the last director, resigned in September due to a "hostile working environment" and said the BID could not go on in its current state and said "presently configured, the lack of civil discourse among the BID’s leadership provides a playground for manipulation and excessive bullying."

The BID Board didn't last as 11 of its 13 board members resigned shortly thereafter. And after a more than three-month process of the Common Council and Scrima butting heads over who should be on the next board, an eight-member board was agreed upon.

The Council said Scrima did not provide them with a balanced slate of options, while the mayor said the Council held up the process.

Nevertheless, in January, the new board, led by new president Bill Huelsman and vice president Nick Martinez, was reviewing a new operating plan.

City Administrator Ed Henschel, a BID Board member, kept the BID afloat amid the mass resignations and outlined the plan before the new board first met.

A complaint, though, from some property owners on the plan was that it was now becoming an organization that was funneling property owners' tax for events.

"Events can be good for downtown, but they should stand on their own merit and not be funded by the property owners," Barta said.

Barta also said that he was upset that street sweeping was not in the BID's budget.

Barta, who suggested at two meetings there be a forum with the new BID Board members and property owners to iron out these issues, said there has "not been a dialogue." He added that where the organization's money is going is "vague."

The Waukesha Common Council was scheduled to review and act on the downtown Business Improvement District's By-laws and Operating Plan at tonight's meeting scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.

Barta said all the aldermen have been informed of the petition and said he would be surprised if it is acted on.

Scrima said, despite the petition, the Council could act on the bylaws.

But Scrima said the property owners' concerns will be addressed, according to state statute.

"Our democracy is based upon the consent governed and if 50 percent of the downtown property owners want to remove this additional layer of taxation which is called the BID then that will happen," Scrima said.