‘Poisoned’ TIF issues in Webster?

The Webster Chamber has a fishy new logo 

The Webster Village Board is faced with a bit of a quandary on how to address several issues or mistakes that may have occurred with the recent creation and approval of a new Tax Increment Financing district (TIF) in the village, after a local resident cited several concerns he believes should force the board to start from scratch and begin again, which might have a fairly large cost to the village if they are forced to start over. 

The issue was noted at their regular board meeting held on Wednesday, Oct. 13, but had come to light in recent weeks, as the village went through the process of creating the new TIF district #3.

They have come to the realization that several critical steps may have been skipped along the way, possibly forcing them to nullify the deal and start over, maybe losing some revenue gained through recent new construction, while also possibly forcing them to redo several previous meetings of a Joint Review Board (JRB), Planning Commission and the village board, to reconsider previous action.

While the actual economic impact may not be known for some time, and it might be a very big hassle for them to correct, it also may have the village lose some ‘captured’ additional equalized value for some property that has been improved since Jan. 1, 2021.

The issue comes to light after a Joint Review Board meeting, where the representatives of the entities affected by the creation of a new TIF district were assembled to review the proposed project, which would overlay the previous TIF district #2, which is considered as an ‘underperforming’ TIF. 

The new TIF would allow the old TIF to continue adding improvements to be paid for by the growth in value to improved properties, but would also add several areas where the village is expected to see growth, and could use that captured value to pay for those improvements over the life of the TIF, which runs for two decades.

At issue is several concerns raised by a resident, R. Burford, who also spoke at a recent special village board meeting, citing similar concerns about what he said were inconsistencies on the overlay map, excluding several properties, as well as concerns that the village board did not follow their own protocol on establishing or calling the Webster Planning Commission back into service last July.  

Burford noted that the three-member Planning Commission must have ‘staggered’ terms, and that they were not properly constituted, as the appointments were done without respect for village ordinances.

“You may believe that TIF #3 is a done deal,” Burford said, calling it ‘the fruit of a poison tree.’ “But you have until the end of December to rescind the resolution and withdraw (the new TIF).”   

The board did not respond directly, but village president Jeff Roberts agreed that there may have been a few mistakes made in the process, including an incomplete or unclear map, but he said the final, approved map was correct. Roberts also gave his own sort of ‘Mea Culpa’ on the issues behind reconstituting the Planning Commission, but insisted that there was no ulterior motive behind their being called back into service, which was originally in July for other issues completely, long before the new TIF district was even discussed.

“It’s all on me. I didn’t know this,” Roberts said flatly on the omissions and error. “But how do we want to correct this?”

Roberts said the Planning Commission had not been used in approximately five years before this summer, and that the typical reappointment process takes place in May, after new board members are sworn-in, but that he does not know if they should just appoint three new members or set the current members with staggered, one-year terms to rectify what Mr. Burford referred to as a ‘defect.’

“We’ll need to do some research and come back to this,” Roberts said, suggesting they resolve any questions at the committee level first, and possibly consult the village attorney and MSA engineering on ways to move forward.

“We just want to do it right,” Roberts said with a nod. “Yes, it needs to be corrected.”

The Planning Commission issue(s) will now go to the Webster Judiciary Committee for possible action or recommendations for the full board to consider next month.  

In other board business:

• The board discussed the proposed changes to the district voting lines, as presented by the county for future ward and district changes, due to the 2020 Census numbers.  According to Roberts, the new map would make Webster one district voting ward, instead of splitting it into two county board supervisory districts.  

• Chamber of Commerce representative Harriet Rice outlined a few issues with chamber and village website maintenance, and how they are hoping to make dramatic improvements to the site, allowing for things like ordinance references, activities and more, although there was some concern over the added cost of the website upkeep falling back on the village, and several trustees believed that the creation of a new village business directory should be covered by the businesses that are affected. 

The discussion hinged on promotional costs, while also noting that many of the chamber-sponsored events can technically benefit the whole village, and not just the businesses. 

The board later agreed to cover the website costs for three months to start, with the chamber hopefully able to collect enough for long-term maintenance coverage.   

• Harriet Rice also said that Gandydancer Days 2022 is a ‘go,’ while also pointing out that it will be the 25th annual version, meaning they are hoping for some sort of special promotional efforts. She suggested possibly diverting typical July 4th fireworks money to the Gandydancer event, instead. They also discussed possible other events like car races, a BMX demonstration or even cloggers to help celebrate. 

‘We’re looking for ideas!’ Rice said as the village also approved a new Chamber of Commerce logo sign, using the village’s logo as an inset.

• The board approved establishing a separate line item account for all federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, so they can better keep track of the funds. 

“Sometime next month, we’ll decide how the money is used,” Roberts said. 

• Trustee Tim Maloney had good news from the Library, as he pointed to a challenge issued by Bud Schilling to match money raised toward retiring the Larsen Family Library debt, several years early. 

“Well over $22,000 has been raised, so far,” Maloney said, praising the efforts of the library board, volunteers and the village, and how the library may soon be able to get out from under the mortgage half a decade early, to allow for additional programming and the like, instead. “This is all from the hard work of the library board and the generosity of the community, and some ‘big hitters!’”

• Burnett County Highway Commissioner Mike Hoefs was in attendance, and presented a possible way for the village to benefit on upcoming state and county road projects, including how they may be able to cover most of the costs of redoing Alder Street between State Road 35 and County Road X. He said the village may be able to partner with the county and state for an 80—20 match on the project, which would otherwise be the village’s bill entirely, but because the road is considered a ‘major collector,’ it would qualify.

Hoefs gave a rough estimate of between $110,000- $135,000 cost to the village, adding that once it is complete, the road could then be part of a jurisdictional transfer to the county for future road work and maintenance.

“I’m thinking for twenty, maybe thirty years down the road,” Hoefs said, adding that the earliest the project would likely be done is 2024, but more likely 2025. He said he would have a better idea on details in the spring.

“I think it sounds like an amazing deal,” stated trustee Kelsey Gustafson, as the board approved moving forward with the plan.