Sister Bay Purchases 40 Acres

It wasn’t on the Village of Sister Bay’s Board of Trustees agenda last week, but was mentioned during that Jan. 16 meeting that the village was closing on a parcel of land at the corner of Woodcrest Road and County Road ZZ.

The next day, the village bought the land, paying $1 million for 40 acres that came with a barn and a couple of older structures, one of those an historic home, said Village Administrator Julie Schmelzer, speaking a day after the closing. The village will preserve the barn but hasn’t decided about the other structures.

“We’ll have to put together a committee to look further,” Schmelzer said.

Village President Nate Bell, speaking a few days after the closing, said the trustees viewed the purchase of the Loqerquist property as an opportunity.

“You can’t manufacture more land and there’s only one direction the village can go,” Bell said. “It was a challenging decision.”

Challenging due to the timing. The trustees were deep into the 2024 budget process when the opportunity arose late last year, and several other capital projects – broadband, housing for the former Wiltse property – were inflating spending. 

Ultimately, the $1 million was included in the 2024 budget, village officials confirmed. The trustees passed that budget unanimously, Nov. 7. On Nov. 21, the board went into closed session to “discuss the purchase of 40 acres of land,” and when they emerged less than 30 minutes later, they voted unanimously “to make an offer to purchase 40 acres of land for $1 million as discussed in Executive Session,” according to the approved minutes. 

Schmelzer said the former owner of the recently purchased land only bought it a couple years ago and offered it to the village knowing it was a key parcel. 

“At this time, the purpose [of the land] is for an administrative building and possibly, when the time comes – and it could be 50 years from now – a new fire station site,” Schmelzer said. “As the village has grown, it’s getting harder and harder to get the trucks through town. There are no discussions; it’s only ‘some day.’ The remainder of the property [other than the administrative building] – we don’t know.”

Taxes and Spending for 2024

That $1 million for the property was only some of the additional spending that increased overall spending in the village’s 2024 budget by 33%, the majority of those expenses in capital projects. The budget also came with a 12% tax-levy increase over 2023. Tax levy revenue collected from property owners helps fund general operations (the general fund), capital improvements and debt payments. 

According to minutes of the budget discussions, some of the trustees did not agree with the spending or the levy increase, but in the end, no cuts were made and the trustees approved the budget unanimously, with Trustee Denise Bhirdo absent for that Nov. 7 meeting.

The village also completed a revaluation of all properties that took effect for 2024 taxes, with the village’s property value skyrocketing from $483 million to $796 million. 

Revaluations cannot change, by law, a cent of how much tax revenue a municipality can collect after redoing the tax rolls, said Dean Peters, vice president of operations for Associated Appraisal, speaking to  the Peninsula Pulse in November. That forces municipalities to decrease their tax rates following a revaluation if the overall property value increases – as it did in Sister Bay. That also means it’s not automatic that a taxpayer will pay more to their municipality if their property value has increased.

Following a revaluation, Peters said about one-third of property owners will find their taxes have stayed the same. Another third will notice a decrease, the final third an increase. 

The single greatest impact to a property owner’s taxes are their local levies, including the municipality, the county and the school district, Peters said.

Sister Bay taxpayers, like others across the peninsula, would not have received their 2024 tax bills until December 2023. Three out of the six people who spoke during Sister Bay’s Jan. 16 meeting – the first since the tax bills arrived – expressed their disapproval of village spending and/or property tax increases. 

Housing Development Presentation, Saturday, Jan. 27

One of the causes of the village’s increased spending in 2024 is money it has reserved for a housing project on the former Wiltse property. The village purchased the 56-acre parcel located between County Road ZZ and Scandia Road in 2020 for $425,000 and wants to develop it with housing.

In preparation for that development, the village board, on Aug. 15, 2023, unanimously hired engineering services company Stantec to do a housing study “to determine the type and amount of housing needed at that [Wiltse] site to meet community needs,” according to the approved minutes of that meeting.

Stantec presented the results of that study, as well as a conceptual plan of a possible housing development, to the village board, Jan. 16. The company’s findings were similar to the findings of the housing shortages outlined in a 2019  county-wide housing study that was done in partnership with the Door County Economic Development Corporation, Cadence, Door County Brewing Co., Door County Coffee, NEW Industries, Nicolet Bank, Renard’s Cheese and Rosewood Dairy and the Destination Door County (Door County Visitor Bureau at the time).

Sister Bay also helped sponsor that 2019 study, as did the County of Door, City of Sturgeon Bay, towns of Gibraltar and Jacksonport and the village of Egg Harbor.

“Overall, there’s a really strong demand for housing, particularly workforce housing, and the supply is nonexistent,” said Stantec’s Spencer Cox, summarizing their look at the Sister Bay housing situation during the Jan. 16 meeting. “The general issue is, how do you increase the supply of those, and the supply of affordable housing, over the long term.” 

The public is invited to learn about the study and conceptual plan on Saturday, Jan. 27, during a scheduled Stantec presentation at 10 am at the Sister Bay-Liberty Grove Fire Station, 2258 Mill Road, Sister Bay.

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