County To Loan $7.5 Million For Marinette Civic Center
After well over an hour of hard fought discussion and a series of votes on Tuesday, March 28, Marinette County Board agreed to loan the City of Marinette $7.5 million at 1.52% interest with graduated payments over 20 years. The low interest loan will save the city $1.5 million over its 20-year duration and makes it possible for the city to move forward on schedule with construction of a $12 million Community Recreation and Sports Center large enough to host indoor sports events, conventions and trade shows.
Money for the loan is to come from the $14.5 million Property Tax Reduction Fund that was set up with proceeds from the sale of the former Marinette General Hospital/Bay Area Medical Center to the new hospital corporation.
The Community/Rec Center is to be located on Pierce Avenue, adjacent to the Marinette High School Campus. The site was donated by the school, which originally acquired it as a donation from Tyco Industries. The City of Marinette has promised that schools, organizations and citizens from the entire county will be allowed use of the facility at the same rates charged to city residents and organizations.
Vote was 19 to 7 in favor of the loan, with one supervisor seat vacant and three supervisors absent. Votes in favor were cast by Josh Anderson, Mark Anderson, Russ Bauer, Penny Chaikowski, Paul Gustafson, Shirley Kaufman, Ken Keller, George Kloppenburg, Tom Mailand, Al Mans, Fred Meintz, Don Pazynski, Don Phillips, Joe Policello, Ted Sauve, Vilas Schroeder, Bill Stankevich, Cheryl Wruk and Dave Zahn. Those opposed were Glenn Broderick, Gilbert Engel, Robert Holly, Jan Porfilio, Al Sauld, Christopher Schmidt, and Clancy Whiting. Mike Behnke, Joe Banaszak and Rick Polzin were absent and excused, and the District 3 seat formerly held by Dennis Marcely is vacant. Marcely resigned last week, and Anderson, who is board chair, expressed hope that candidates will come forward so Marcely's seat on County Board can be filled by appointment at the board's meeting on Tuesday, April 18.
Before the loan was approved, the City's request for a $1.5 million contribution toward the project was rejected. The vote was 14 in favor and 12 opposed, but the motion failed because a two thirds majority was required since it is unbudgeted money. Those opposed that time around were Broderick, Engel, Holley, Kloppenburg, Pazynski, Policello, Porfilio, Sauld, Schmidt, Stankevich, Wruk and Zahn.
In one of his first official actions as Marinette County Administrator, John LeFebvre urged approval of the financing. He explained the $7.3 million loan terms were calculated to save the city $1.5 million it needed to complete financing for the project.
Shortly before that issue came to the board floor supervisors had approved an employment agreement that put LeFebvre officially into the County Administrator job he has handled on an interim basis since Shawn Henessee resigned in late December.
Financing from the county, whether by the loan or the outright contribution, also had ardent support from Board Chair Mark Anderson.
Marinette Mayor Steve Genisot told the board an alternate proposal for a $1.5 million loan would not work for the city, but either the $7.3 million loan or the $1.5 million contribution would. With the smaller loan, the city would still have needed to go to referendum for authorization to spend the money needed to pay for the project and would not be able to move forward on schedule. Genisot said they are ready to go out for bids, and construction is to start this spring.
The County financing issue was discussed at length at the County Board meeting in February, again at a Finance Committee meeting earlier this month when LeFebvre proposed the idea of a $10.5 million loan if the board would not support the $1.5 million contribution, and then again at an Executive Committee meeting on Wednesday, March 22. The Executive Committee recommended approval of the $1.5 million contribution, but also viewed a presentation on the $7.3 million loan and left that open as an option should the contribution be rejected. Only a simple majority vote was required for approval of the loan, but in fact a 2/3 majority was achieved.
A committee promoting the Community Center project had raised $4.5 million in contributions for the project before coming to County Board, and the city will take out a short-term note on the municipal bond market to complete the financing needed until the pledges come in. Marinette City Council had previously unanimously agreed to borrow $6 million on a long-term bond issue to pay for the Community Center. That left their financing short by $1.5 million.
Pazynski tried hard for approval of a $1.5 million loan, but Genisot said that would not help, and Pazynski's attempt to amend the motion for the larger loan by changing the amount to $1.5 million was rejected with 11 supervisors voting in favor and 15 opposed.
Before start of the debate on the Civic Center financing, Ann Hartnell, administrator of Marinette County Association for Business and Industry (MCABI) cited the importance of such facilities to help businesses attract and retain good employees, and said the MCABI Board of Directors had just unanimously supported a resolution asking the board to approve the financing. She noted attracting visitors to the area will increase sales tax proceeds, and improving the county's attractiveness as a place to live will bolster the county's population, which has been declining, and that in turn improves the property tax base and helps all businesses.
"People here are dying faster than we can replace them," she declared.
Another argument from Hartnell was that the Community/Recreation Center will increase visibility of the county on the state scene, and not only do families that come here for sports events spend money while they are here, they may learn enough about the county's many natural attractions to want to come back again for a longer visit.
"We want to grow Marinette County. We don't want it to die!" she declared.
Engel asked if she had any studies to back and of this up?" asked Engel, who along with Pazynski were among the most vocal opponents of county funding for the poroject.
Pazynski said the project is good, but it is the responsibility of the city, not the county. "We are county supervisors and need to look out for the interests of the county," Pazynski repeatedly declared.
Next on the agenda was a report on preliminary results of the Carlson Dettman wage study, presented by consultant Patrick Glynn. Before starting his report, Glynn said the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development had done a study two years ago on the aging population, and the millennial generation chooses where they will live and work. He had said last month, and repeated at Tuesday's meeting, that recreational opportunities are indeed among the factors they consider important.
LeFebvre said over the long term the project will pay huge dividends to both the city and the county.
Holley was concerned about setting a bad precedent by making the loan.
LeFebvre ardently disagreed. He said the county had been asked to provide $1.5 million, just 12% toward the $12 million project, "and if the Village of Niagara, the Village of Crivitz or the Town of Stephenson came up with a wonderful project for economic development and asked us to contribute 12 percent, what a wonderful precedent we would have!" He wished they all would do it. "If these communities have a project they want to bring forward, bring it to us," he offered.
He noted the county had taken over Parkway Road to help the forestry industry, and recently worked out a cooperative agreement with the Village of Crivitz, partnering for improvements to County W through the village.
He had told the board that giving away the $1.5 million from the Property Tax Reduction fund would cost the county only $39,000 a year in reduced interest, but that would quickly be made up by increased sales tax proceeds.
Bauer declared Marinette has a new mayor who wants to build the city up, "and I'm all for helping him achieve his dreams."
"The problem is, we have to leave the City of Marinette to get home, " commented Stankevich, who represents the Goodman area. "When I left home, the answer from my constituents was, "Hell no!'" He said once the paper comes out with arguments in favor, especially of the loan idea, they may change their minds, but in the meantime, he would have to face some angry friends and neighbors. He wondered if they could postpone the vote, but Genisot said no, because they have gone out for bids, and need to accept them if they are to meet the construction schedule.
Others from the north said their constituents were also very opposed. Sauld said he had not talked to anyone in his district who was in favor. He noted former board chair George Bousley, who is Mayor of Niagara, supported the idea, but wondered where the county had been when the Highway 141 improvements went through the heart of Niagara without sidewalks.
The debate continued, and ultimately the loan that LeFEbvre proposed was approved. He repeated the sales tax is the key that will allow the county to recoup its investment. As payments from the city come in they will go back into the Property Tax Reduction Fund.
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