You might think a project that, three years after it began, generated considerable public opposition to its details would have generated more than one Platteville Common Council No vote.
But all Ald. Ken Kilian said he wanted to do was to delay the vote, not vote against the Holiday Inn Express, new Platteville Public Library and remodeled Neighborhood Health Partners clinic coming to Platteville’s Library Block for $1.5 million or so of our tax dollars.
The issue is not whether Platteville needs a new library. (One can reasonably ask who lacked foresight when the current library was built to realize that expansion space might be necessary someday.) One could reasonably ask if Platteville needs a new library built right now with all the city’s other financial needs (new fire station and road work, to name two), and it’s certain it would not have been built without the opportunity this project presented.
People who have developed buildings and projects in this area have misgivings about this project. (And those who make statements that people oppose the project because it doesn’t “line other people’s pockets, frankly” aren’t helping, frankly.) Government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers, but building a 77-room hotel in a city that is not lacking for hotel capacity probably prevents any other hotel from being built, and, unless an existing hotel owner builds one, a convention center that Platteville needs. (Which probably needs an attached restaurant too, and none of Platteville’s existing hotels have attached restaurants, nor will the Holiday Inn Express.)
Common Council president Eileen Nickels called the project an example of public–private partnerships the city needs more of. Regardless of how you feel about public–private partnerships, public information about how public tax dollars are used in a public–private partnership is not something you’re going to get more of. There will be numerous closed-session meetings, and then aldermen will proclaim that it’s an excellent project, and we voters are supposed to take their word on that.
It would be nice if aldermen would be a little more considerate of the views of those with misgivings and not walk up to the line of condescension and patronizing in their public statements that you can read starting on page 1 of your favorite weekly newspaper. Such statements are why mistrust of government at every level is at an all-time high.
I lived in a city that tried a public–private partnership that turned out to be an unholy litigious mess. A group of investors came to Ripon, announced grand plans for a hotel and spa and 21st-century retail and occupational space where you could live and work, purchased several downtown buildings with taxpayer help, and, well … the renovated pizza parlor is quite nice. The rest is winding its way through the court system, with accusations, counterclaims, and profit only for attorneys. Blame is somewhat pointless, but suffice to say Ripon will never have another public–private partnership of any consequence.
This is also a demonstration that poor past policy has consequences. If District 3 Ald. Barb Daus is correct in saying that essentially no development took place in the city in the 1980s and 1990s, whose fault was that? The city cannot pay for a new fire station or renovations to the Municipal Building, nor can it get ahead of its crumbling streets, nor can it do other things the city would like to do not because tax rates are too low, but because the tax base is far too small for a city where 12,000 people live most of the year.
In the past year the city has given its EMS service, which operated essentially break-even, to Southwest Health because the city could not afford to build a new EMS garage. Now to get a new library that was supposed to be free, the city will spend $1.5 million in rent and give a developer a $2 million loan from a red TIF district to get back $2.685 million, but not until 2036. The guaranteed TIF increment won’t pay back the library lease, if my math is correct, until two to three years after the lease expires.
So what, you ask? The city will have to find the lease money from someplace, and thanks to state tax levy limits it’s probably not going to come from raising taxes. (Nor should it.) Take the rent of about $220,000 per year minus the guaranteed increment — $100,000 in 2017, and $155,000 per year from 2018 to 2024 — and you can see that the guaranteed increment is already gone, with a $120,000 city budget hole in 2017 and $65,000 holes until 2024. Whatever the city would like to do with that money, it can’t, unless tax revenues from the project exceed estimates.
We have to hope this works. We also have to hope that the city can find a buyer for the former Pioneer Ford properties who will make that project worth the taxpayer money that has also been and will be spent. If either project doesn’t work, guess who gets the mess?