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Common Council: Becker touts city's growth, keeping taxes level
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At-large Ald. Steve Becker is running for his third — and, he says, last — three-year term on the Platteville Common Council.

Becker believes the council’s and city’s accomplishments have earned him another three-year term.

“I think we have a good group in management at the city,” he said. “I think we provide good service to the city.”

Becker touts the city’s economic growth, including UW–Platteville’s Rountree Commons, which provides a $100,000 annual Payment In Lieu of Taxes, and new apartment projects on Washington Street and at 1075 W. Main St. With improving student housing, he said, “Some of the substandard rented properties will be taken off the market.

“The city historically has supported development, particularly in the industrial park, and I think we have a good record with what’s happened in the industrial park. I think Platteville’s development has been outstanding the last 10 years.”

Becker said he would support an industrial park-like plan to promote startup businesses downtown.

Becker said during the 2013 budget process that city spending on economic development — which includes the Platteville Area Industrial Development Corp., the Platteville Business Incubator, and the Grant County Economic Development Corp. — needed to be evaluated.

“Part of the next budget process, I think we should spend a little more time with how we fund those organizations and should we reallocate it,” he said, including how those organizations spend city funds.

Becker is a retired UW–Platteville professor.

“I have a financial background; I’m a CPA,” he said. “I think one of the things somebody of my background can add to the council is I like to think of myself as having analytical ability, as far as where the money is spent and what the money is going for. We’ve been able to keep taxes even the last six years.”

Becker voted against the city pay increase, the $60-per-household garbage fee, and the 2013 budget that incorporated both those measures. He said he will oppose future efforts to increase the garbage fee.

“The consensus was in [budget] discussions that we shouldn’t fund that pay increase,” he said. “And then when the actual [council] meeting came up, it was proposed, and a majority of the council voted for it. I voted against it because I didn’t agree with how it was done.”

As for the garbage fee, he said, “To me, it was on the one hand we’re going to take this money out of the budget, which is theoretically going to lower your taxes, and we’re going to charge it somewhere else. The total amount you paid went up.”

Becker said leaving garbage collection as part of the budget funded by property taxes would mean that all taxable city property, not just homes, would have paid for garbage collection.

“What do the citizens of Platteville receive for that tax payment?” he said. “Up until this year that included the garbage payment.”

Becker said separating garbage fees meant city spending could increase. “That’s another reason why I was against it,” he said. “One of the things about being on the council that really surprised me is how difficult it is to not spend money — how difficult it is to convince your colleagues on the council to not spend this money. I’m probably the guy on the council who says, do you really want to spend that money?”

Becker said when he first was elected in 2007 city street work was “significantly lower than it is now,” leading to complaints about lack of city street work. He said street work has increased, with more use of overlays instead of more involved reconstruction, the former of which provides “pretty good bang for the buck.”

The council has gotten criticism, including from Becker’s opponent Michael Denn, about how accommodating the city is to UW–Platteville.

“I’ve probably heard it more in the last year, and I suspect it had to do with the new dorm more than anything else,” said Becker. “I’m a strong supporter of the university. But I think that just because we work or worked for the university, we automatically vote for everything the university asks for? I think just the opposite. I think we’re probably harder on the university than if we hadn’t been employees there. I don’t think, anybody on the council, that even enters their mind — that because they work for UW–Platteville they need to support that automatically.”

Becker said UW–Platteville “has bent over backwards providing parking” with the construction of Rountree Commons, including starting a shuttle bus service and encouraging students to not bring cars to campus. “The problem hasn’t developed like a lot of people have complained about,” he said.

Becker’s priorities include providing the city’s basic services — police, fire, EMS, streets, water and sewer, and sanitation — while keeping the tax rate “as low as possible” and increasing the city’s tax base.

Becker doesn’t believe the occasional animated arguments on the council prevent city work from getting done.
“Just because you have people disagreeing with what should be done in a meeting — disagreement is not necessarily bad; it’s good to have a discussion,” he said. “I think we work well together; overall consensus is usually reached. I feel the city council works pretty well together.”