Day 2, Flying Through

What a jam-packed day! Day two of the conference was a busy day full of information and great networking with others. I hope that you enjoyed all the break out sessions just as much as I did.We had such a wide range of topics covered today from PFAS, to Liquor Licencing, covering the importance of ethics and so much more. While these topics might seem like boring issues to the average person; I always digging in when discussing policy. As local leaders it is vital that we always continue to learn new ideas and share our experiences with others because this is how we are able to grow and make improvements. 

It was  great to hear from Tricia Braun during lunch. Tricia is the Chief Operating Officer at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. She is charged with leading the organization’s efforts to promote Wisconsin and help foster a positive workforce environment all across Wisconsin. It was wonderful to hear all the great work that WEDC is doing to help promote Wisconsin and encourage people to relocate here. As local leaders we rely on our state partners to help promote and life up our communities. 

We also took time to recognize Appleton Mayor Tim Hanna for his many years of service to Appleton and the League. I know that we all wish him well in his retirement. Mayor Hanna is a shining example of what a local leader should do.

Congrats on the respective winners for the Local Spark and Arts in the Community Awards. It is important to recognize the great work that is being done around the state, and brightening up our communities whether big or small. Seeing the great work being done reminds me that no matter the size of the municipality, that we can all achieve creative and innovative projects. 

This conference is zipping by. We are in the home stretch. I am super excited to hear LeRoy Butler speak tomorrow!

First Day of #LeagueWI2019 Starts Strong

The first day of the 121st League Conference is off to a great start. It is always rejuvenating to see so many passionate local leaders that care about making their communities a better place. I know this will be a very successful conference because we have a great lineup of speakers and sessions. I hope that you will learn a lot and leave this conference with a great sense of commitment to your community.

This has been an exciting day so far. This morning started off with several informational deep dive sessions. I attend the session on innovative housing solutions. As local leaders we all know that housing is an issue that we all are trying to address and help meet the needs of our communities. As we all know, there is no single easy solution to addressing the housing issue. That is why Kurt Paulsen encouraged all of our cities and villages to develop a community housing plan. When we develop strong housing plans, only then can our cities and villages begin to move forward.

I don’t know about you but, I filled my bag with so much stuff from the vendor fair. I now have plenty of pens and note pans to make it through the next year. I always enjoy chatting with the vendors and learning about all the different partners that we have that help us by providing us with the tools to help see our projects through. I would like to give a shout out to all of those sponsors and vendors that participated during the vendor fair. Whenever I swing through the exhibit hall, I am always excited to hear what services that Sheboygan utilized and some successes that they have had. 

I also want to thank the outgoing League Board President Tammy Bockhorst on a great year with her at the helm. Tammy’s leadership will be missed, but I know that she will continue to be a strong municipal leader for years to come. I also want to congratulate Mayor Zach Vruwink on becoming the new League Board President. As another young elected official, it is inspiring to see another young leader that is passionate about his hometown and Wisconsin. I know that Zach will do a wonderful job as the new Board President. 

It was great to have Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson from Gary Indiana speak during the business meeting. Mayor Freeman-Wilson also serves as the President of the National League of Cities. She reminded all of us about the importance to love our communities and how fostering positive civic engagement is vital for our future. I know that we all love our communities and strive everyday to show off the hidden jewels that our communities have.

We are just getting started, and I know that the rest of the conference will be just as great and invigorating. 

Ryan Sorenson – Sheboygan City Council

Who is ready for #LWM2019

Hi everyone, I’m Ryan Sorenson. I am on the Sheboygan City Council. Jerry is letting me take over his blog for the next few days so I can share my perspective and thoughts about the upcoming League of Municipalities Conference. This will be the best and biggest conference so far. I hope that you are just as excited as I am!

I think it is very fitting that we are having the conference in Green Bay this year. So far the Packers are rocking, and finally have a defense! They also will hopefully continue to hold their 1st place status for the NFC North. Don’t get me wrong the Packer still have room for improvement, just like all of us. It is even more exciting that LeRoy Butler will be our closing speaker. LeRoy was the original Lambeau Leaper. Having LeRoy is only just one of the exciting things that will be at this year’s conference. This year at the conference there will be big trucks in the exhibit hall, ethics expert Michael Gillette will be back, and of course there will be many engaging breakout sessions.

Attending the annual conference is always invigorating and helpful for me. There is always so much that I learn when I attend the conference. When I leave the conference I feel like I have added more tools in my tool belt, which makes me a better local leader. When we all have the tools and learn new ideas, we are able to make all our communities a better place.

I am looking forward to meeting and connecting with many of you. If you see me, please stop by and say hi!

-Ryan

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Bonus round for potholes!

Eau Claire St. 4 2016 GailWisconsin’s long road back to a well-maintained transportation system has begun. Yesterday the Wisconsin Department of Transportation announced the details of a one-time grant competition to invest $75 million repairing, rebuilding and/or upgrading Wisconsin’s local roads, bridges, bike trails and transit systems. The grant program is one part of a state transportation budget that acknowledged the need to beef up our transportation system, especially (but not exclusively) the local part of our system.

The League has a simple message for Wisconsin’s cities and villages: APPLY! Come on, you know you have a road that’s long overdue for reconstruction, a bus stop that should have been bulldozed years ago, or a pedestrian trail nobody uses because it has more weeds, mud puddles and broken concrete than it has walkers. This is their chance; it’s the bonus round! As they say on the commercial: “Send it in!”

I give Transportation Secretary Craig Thompson, Governor Tony Evers and the Wisconsin Legislature a serious “tip of the hat” on this one. It’s flexible, it’s responsive and it lets YOU at the LOCAL level make the call. Projects can be everything from “shovel ready” (can we hate that term yet??) to a gleam in your Public Works Director’s eye. As long as the project can be completed within six years, it’s eligible. Minimum project size is $250,000, and the maximum size is $3.5 million. You must have something that fits in between those two numbers. Every city and village does.

We won’t regurgitate all of the rules and regulations here; you can read them at the WisDOT’s web site. Just remember the deadline: December 6.

We also have a request: Send us pictures. The League would love to see the critical projects that our members want to work on. Send us an ugly “before” picture.

Potholes, your days are numbered.

 

A life or death conversation

One of my mentors is Clarence Anthony, the Executive Director of the National League of Cities. A week ago, Clarence posted this item as he reflected on the most recent round of pointless and tragic mass shootings. Like many of us, Clarence is struggling to understand why these things happen. But like many of us in the arena of local government, he asks an even more important and immediate question: What’s our role? What’s our role in response to tragedies such as those that have occurred in El Paso, Dayton, and Oak Creek? What’s our role in averting and avoiding these acts of deadly outrage? What’s our role as citizens?

Democracy in America is not a spectator sport. It is nothing more and nothing less than  every one of us acting together for the common good. What’s the role of democracy in the face of domestic terrorism? This will be a difficult conversation. It may be a painful conversation. But it’s a conversation we need to have if we are ever going to find a solution to this violence.

To quote Clarence Anthony: No more, no more, no more.

212 Roads to Somewhere

The Wisconsin Legislature is deciding this spring whether or not to delay main street in 212 Wisconsin Cities, Villages and Towns. There are 212 state highway rehabilitation projects included in a $320 million state highway rehabilitation program budget request. The request is being considered this month by the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance. Each of those projects is a vital piece of a community’s economic success. We hope the vote is “Green” for go.

We admit that the “State Highway Rehabilitation Program” is a name only a bureaucratic mother could love. And $320 million is a lot of money, even within a multi-billion dollar state budget. What’s the connection to downtown Wisconsin? It’s not local transportation aids. Why should we care?

We do care, because all roads in Wisconsin lead somewhere. For example, one of those 212 projects would resurface Highway 172 in the Green Bay Area; the highway that leads to the Brown County Airport. Another project would replace a critical bridge on Highways 59 and 18 in the City of Waukesha. One more resurfaces the road that runs through the Village of Athens in Marathon County. Project after project affects city after city, village after village and town after town. It’s all connected; connected to you and I.

State highways are the links between Wisconsin’s 602 cities and villages; they are also often the main thoroughfares through those communities. They carry farm products, manufacturing equipment, school buses, ambulances and the tens of thousands of family vehicles traveling back and forth every day. Without a quality network of these roads linking local roads and the highway system, it gets harder to get to work, to get to school, and to get emergency services to people who need them.

A few days ago, the Wisconsin DOT released the list of road rehabilitation projects that would be delayed or deferred (deferred is bureaucratic word that means something worse than delayed) if we cannot find consensus on how to pay for them. Take a look at the list; it’s long but organized by county. Chances are you’ll find a road that you drive on listed there. Think about that particular stretch of road. What happens to your village if that project doesn’t get done next year; or the year after; or maybe just doesn’t get done? Whose job is affected; whose school is affected; which ambulance has to be rerouted?

Think about that. Then call your area legislator. It’s all connected.

Another Dark Store Attempt Fails

Once again, the traveling troupe of Dark Store tax attorneys and appraisers-for-hire has failed to persuade a local judge. On April 4, 2019, Portage County Circuit Judge Thomas Flugaur dismissed a national chain store’s attempt to have its property tax bill cut in half. Lowe’s Home Centers, LLC claimed that the Village of Plover was charging them property taxes based on twice the actual value of their property. Judge Flugaur wouldn’t bite. The Judge’s decision is here.

Although the village “won” this case, it wasn’t free nor was it easy. It cost the village more than $80,000 to hire the expert attorneys and appraisal specialists that were needed to win a four-day trial. As with other Wisconsin Dark Store challenges, the cost of defending the assessment plays a practical and significant role in deciding whether or not to negotiate a settlement. Many times the municipality chooses to settle, rather than incur the cost and risk of a trial. Other Dark Store appeals have cost even more than Plover’s to defend against.

The Plover case played out similarly to other Dark Store road show performances. The property owner offered up a smorgasbord of vacant, boarded-up properties as “comparables,” including one former department store that had been vacant for four years. The Village countered that the property in question was in the middle of a popular shopping district that had a very low vacancy rate; by no means was it comparable to a dark property. In the end, the judge decreed that none of the properties offered by the paid experts were truly comparable. Under Wisconsin law, that finding next leads to an assessment of the cost of the property; what it would cost to build a comparable store.

Under the cost approach, it seemed that the two sides were in agreement. The Village’s cost-approach figure was $8.5 million; the property owner’s expert came up with $8.9 million. (Both figures exceed the building’s actual assessment value.) But then, the property owner’s hired expert took his estimate one step further, claiming that the property had to be devalued by 50% due to “functional depreciation” of the property. The judge tossed that discount out, pointing out that the $8.5 million and $8.9 million figures both already accounted for depreciation. (The Lowe’s building has been standing for 10 years.)

In his decision, Judge Flugaur repeatedly quoted from the Wisconsin Property Assessment Manual, which states, among other things, that “The assessor should avoid using sales of improved properties that are vacant (‘dark’) or distressed as comparable sales unless the subject property is similarly dark or distressed.” So, once again, despite a local tax assessment that was done “by the book,” treating the property owner fairly, a major retailer sued the village, forcing it to incur tens of thousands of dollars to defend other taxpayers from a tax shift. On behalf of taxpayers in Plover and dozens of other cities, villages and towns that are under similar assault, we respectfully but urgently ask that the Wisconsin Legislature take up and pass the Dark Store legislation to make it clear once and for all that the Dark Store Road Show is over.