Letter to the Editor: Regarding ‘Hail Mary Plays’

I am writing in response to the many letters submitted by Robert Loss regarding the West Waterfront Redevelopment Project. The latest of these is labeled “Hail Mary Plays.” The current thread seems to be that a last ditch effort is acceptable for the Packers, but not for those who wish to have a say in what kind of city they live in.

All of these letters are completely filled with innuendo and straw man arguments and vary little in content week after week. This kind of writing does little to foster a serious discourse or help in the understanding of legitimate issues and concerns.

Consistently mentioned in every letter is the implication that the delays caused by objection to this project are costing the “Taxpayers of Sturgeon Bay” thousands of dollars in lost revenue. The sum often quoted is $160,000.00+/- per year . I agree that revenue is lost with the passage of time – but it is not impacting the general fund or accruing to the taxpayers of Sturgeon Bay.

The project is located in a Tax Increment Financing District. Tax Increment Financing is a statutory means of financing certain improvements to a designated district by use of the net increase in property tax in the district. This net increase is called increment and is essentially captured and used to pay for public improvements to the site. In this case such things as parking lots (to be used by the hotel), public improvements to the waterfront, utility extensions, street improvements and the like are the focus of this project.

The legal life of a Tax Increment Financing District in Wisconsin is 23 years, although extensions to this time period are easy to secure. The payoff on the city’s project expenses is cued to that time frame. Thus, no new tax from this development will accrue to the general fund for 23 years, or possibly longer. People speak of Tax Increment Financing Districts being paid off early but this development is no cash cow as a lot of the project area is in public ownership and generates no taxes. Thus the increase in taxes resulting from this development will not be available to the general fund for a long time.

Note, too, that city taxes are not the only revenue captured by the Tax Increment Financing District. Every entity with taxing authority over this project area is in the same boat. The city, county, school district, community college are all deprived of the money for the life of the project. The total of this is estimated in the Tax Increment Financing District plan to be over $10,000,000. Somewhere along the line this loss of revenue will easily cost us more money.

Calling this corporate welfare or “welfare for the wealthy” is exactly what it is. Public money is spent to directly enhance the project potential for private enterprise. We can discuss the merits of this approach as it does offer the city a way to redevelop blighted areas, but whether it is a good deal or a bad deal in our opinions does not matter. It is still corporate welfare.

Hail Mary? Maybe – but more likely just citizens exercising their constitutional rights.


Brian Gutheinz

Sturgeon Bay, Wis.

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