HARRISON — The board that gives the final word on the creation of Tax Incremental Financing districts rejected the proposed Town of Harrison TIF district Wednesday.
The Joint Board of Review voted 3–2 against the creation of an agricultural TIF district around Kieler Farms’ Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation on Stanton Road.
Grant County Board chairman Robert Keeney, Platteville Public Schools superintendent Connie Valenza, and Southwest Wisconsin Technical College president Jason Wood voted against the motion to create the proposed TIF district.
The two Harrison representatives — town chair Nate Niehaus and treasurer Wesley Richards, who was chosen as the town’s citizen representative on the board — voted in favor.
At the meeting Wednesday, a resident from the audience called out the three out-of-district residents who got a vote, saying the Town of Harrison had supported reform to the county in the form of the new jail project currently under way in Lancaster and improvement projects to Platteville schools. He commented that the TIF district was a way to keep money in the township, but three of the people who got to vote didn’t live in the area.
Valenza replied that the Town of Harrison had not, in fact, supported the referendum for Platteville Public School improvements.
Wood commented that he lived in Platteville, a close neighbor to the Township of Harrison.
Wood, Keeney, and Valenza brought up a number of issues that guided their votes, chief among them the “But For” test specified in state TIF regulations.
Jeff Thelen of MSA Professional Services said but for the creation of the TIF district, the road improvements proposed as part of the resolution’s project plans wouldn’t be able to occur.
One of the key projects mentioned was the straightening of Stanton Road. Ann Kieler of Kieler Farms said a road upgrade would be beneficial to the township because
“It’s a very dangerous corner,” she said. “You can’t see when you’re going around the corner.”
“There are several crashes reported on this curve right here,” added Thelen.
“I’m not sure I agree with you” on the But For test, said Valenza, who added that “There are other avenues” to get projects like the straightening of Stanton Road done even without the creation of the TIF district. Higher property values from the development would still lead to increased taxes and greater revenue for infrastructure, she said, adding that there could also be a referendum on the matter.
“Creative financing may be able to do that without creating the TIF,” said Keeney.
Keeney also mentioned the lack of a developer agreement as a potential issue. He said that while TIF districts are normally created after all the planning is completed, that wasn’t done in this case.
“This one [TIF district] we were put under the gun in three months,” whereas normally planning takes three to four years, he said.
“For me, it would be helpful to see much more of a plan — not what may happen, but what is going to happen,” said Wood.
Another consideration was the general opinion of town residents.
Some negative sentiments toward the project were brought up at the meeting by members of the audience.
One resident said the town couldn’t straighten every road just because there had been an accident on it.
Another commented on the manure smells that would come from the Kieler Farms Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation.
Yet another questioned whether Kieler Farms was involved in the creation of the project plan.
Kieler said they weren’t, and Thelen added that he’d made the plan with the town.
The resident replied that Matt Clark of Kieler Farms is on the town board.
Wood said he had received extensive feedback on the proposed TIF district. Prior to the meeting, he said, “Most of the people who have outlined their opinions have expressed concern and frustration.”
“I’ve also received fairly significant input” from residents, said Valenza, adding no input had been positive. During the Platteville school board meeting she said she didn’t receive support for approving the creation of the TIF district either.
“I think I’m in the same position,” said Wood. He said he’d gotten negative feedback from Southwest Wisconsin Technical College board members he’d spoken with informally.
“Again, I did not have any positive remarks,” said Keeney.
Kieler commented that no one had bothered to contact the farm’s representatives to get their perspective.
Valenza replied that she had a conversation about the proposed TIF district with a member of Kieler Farms who attended a school board meeting. Kieler then agreed that she did remember that.
Wood raised the option of gathering more information on the statistics provided by the project plan before voting to check their validity.
“I don’t know if it’s as easy as saying yes or no, up or down,” he said.
Thelen responded that the plan would have to be approved within 45 days of Sept. 12 to be valid.
“It would be awfully hard to table it,” he added.
Niehaus said there wasn’t time to make changes to the plan, and that it would increase the cost to residents to collect additional information and schedule another meeting.
Richards motioned to take a vote on the approval of the TIF district, seconded by Niehaus. Both Richards and Niehaus voted in favor of the TIF district’s creation, but Keeney, Valenza, and Wood voted “no,” killing the resolution to approve the TIF district.
The Joint Review Board’s decision is believed to be the Platteville area’s first rejection of a proposed TIF district. All eight of the City of Platteville’s TIF districts were approved by the Board of Review — which included current and previous PPS, SWTC and Grant County representatives — including current TIF districts 4 and 6 in the Business Park, TIF 5 in the Progressive Parkway area, and TIF 7 downtown.
Kieler commented on the approval of all of Platteville’s previously proposed TIF districts during the meeting; she said it was ironic that businesses in Platteville got breaks when the same sort of project was being opposed in the Town of Harrison.