By Lee Reinsch
DE PERE – How to best allocate (or reallocate) stadium tax money was one of the issues batted about by the De Pere Common Council Tuesday, Dec. 4.
In the end, the board member who proposed the idea to rescind allocated money and reallocate it voted against rescinding it.
At issue was that months ago, long before the idea of building two aquatic facilities came into being, the Common Council voted to allocate $300,000 in stadium tax funds to go toward a splash pad at Legion Park and $125,000 in stadium tax funds to go toward a possible band shelter for Voyageur Park.
Both ideas are or were in their infancy stages.
Back when Alderman Dean Raasch made the splash pad suggestion, the city was talking about closing Legion Park pool and building a larger, city-wide aquatic center at VFW Park, leaving Legion Park without a pool.
“When the motion was made to allocate money for a splash pad, it was an offset to them (Legion Park) for not having a pool,” Raasch said.
Because the Nov. 6 referendum to build two aquatic facilities, one at each park, passed, Raasch said Legion Park will retain its pool and doesn’t need such an offset.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Raasch proposed to rescind money previously allocated for the splash pad and the band shelter and reallocate it toward efforts to get the dual pool projects underway.
“My intent was to get that VFW project going a little quicker as well as getting Legion Pool going, too,” he said, adding that with the extra money, the project could be done faster and the debt repaid sooner.
“The city potentially wouldn’t have to collect the $900,000 a year for as long, we could collect for the operation costs but not for the construction costs, and so basically it would provide some taxpayer relief?” Alderman Jonathon Hansen said.
The Nov. 6 referendum allows the city to exceed the tax levy up to $900,000 per year for an indefinite number of years for construction and operation of the aquatic facilities.
“It’s a way to bring some tax relief into those pool projects,” Raasch said of his idea to reallocate the Legion splash pad and Voyageur amphitheater monies toward the two city aquatic facilities.
Mayor Mike Walsh said they needed to step back.
“This money was intended to be a one-time payment from the stadium sales tax to be used for economic development, tax relief, and debt repayment,” he said, adding that he realized an argument could be made that the proposed reallocation met all three mandates.
Parks Director Marty Kosobucki piped in with his view that a splash pad would be an economic development tool, as it would draw children and their families from a 20- or 30-mile radius of De Pere.
But that amount of money could keep momentum rolling in the downtown with economic development efforts, Walsh said.
“The downtown is a pretty important thing – the cultural district downtown and development on the west side – we’re getting some projects done, and putting the money toward one or two of those projects, if it’s feasible, would be a prudent use of stadium money,” Walsh said. “We’ve already got the $900,000 (yearly referendum money from a property tax increase) that the city referendum said we can utilize for the pools, and adding the $300,000 (in stadium tax money) to that won’t make it go faster. But being able to show the community that we’ve got some serious things going on downtown as well as doing the pool, I think that would be more prudent than just throwing it toward the pool.”
The mayor said voters passed the referendum knowing their taxes would go up.
“We’ve already allocated this $300,000 (stadium tax money) to something else (the splash pad), so why not keep it with some other projects that would be advantageous to the city as well as the pool?” he said.
Council members brainstormed, tossing around other possible uses for the money, including George Street crossing, the cultural district, the proposed beer garden, new amenities at Voyageur Park or Wells Park and tree planting.
Hansen said he liked the idea of investing in the cultural district and in other parks.
City Attorney Judith Schmidt-Lehman suggested that at the first meeting in January, they make a resolution to rescind the allocation of monies for the splash pad and amphitheater and put the money back into the segregated account that was required to be opened for the excess stadium tax dollars and remain there until reallocated by the council.
Because it would have taken another resolution to rescind the reallocation of the monies to put them in the segregated fund, the board decided for the time being to leave the money where it is right now: earmarked for the splash pad and amphitheater.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll use it for those projects,” Raasch said, although the resolution as it stands binds the council to the those projects (the splash pad and amphitheater) unless it’s changed at a subsequent meeting. “It can’t be used any other way.”
Until it’s rescinded and reallocated at a later meeting, that is.