Campaign To Dissolve Bay View Business Improvement District

February 2, 2018

By Katherine Keller

Ada Duffey and David Brazeau, long-time critics of the Kinnickinnic Avenue Business Improvement District #44 (KK BID), are spearheading a campaign to dissolve the organization.

Both own property in the district that stretches along South Kinnickinnic Avenue from Becher/Bay streets to Morgan Avenue.

A Business Improvement District (BID) is an economic development tool used to help maximize business growth along a major business strip. BIDs are sections of a city where the property owners agree to pay extra property taxes. That extra tax revenue forms a BID’s annual budget and the funds are spent on projects that enhance the local business environment. Those may include improvements to the streetscape, marketing efforts, business recruitment activity, and security programs.

The formation of a BID was long-championed by District 14 Ald. Tony Zielinski, whose district includes Kinnickinnic Avenue in Bay View. Soon after he was elected alderman in 2004, he began a quest to form a BID, succeeding when it was established in 2009.

Ada Duffey mailed this postcard to each of the property owners in the Kinnickinnic Avenue Business Improvement District. She and David Brazeau, both BID property owners, hope to dissolve the BID. —Graphic Jim Price

To dissolve the BID, Duffey and Brazeau’s petition must collect the signatures of owners in the BID whose property values equal more than 50 percent of the total value of the properties in BID 44. The current total assessment for the 194 properties equals $73,210,000. Duffey needs signatures by owners whose building assessments equal $37,337,100. At press time, she said she has “$9,049,600 worth of signatures and verbal/written commitments for an additional $7,630,900,” a total of $16,680,500, after only a few days of soliciting petition signatures.

Lee Barczak, owner of the Avalon Theater, is the current KK BID president. The BID’s bylaws stipulate a board of seven directors, but there are currently three, including Barczak. The board has operated for more than a year without a secretary, after Joyce Parker left the board after serving several terms. During the past year, scheduled meetings were canceled because there were not enough board members present to reach a quorum.

Despite Zielinski’s efforts and those of the board, the KK BID has enjoyed neither widespread nor robust support by the Kinnickinnic Avenue property owners.

For Duffey, the final straw was a recent proposal by Barczak and the board to increase the annual assessment by a factor of five. “They were very close to voting on it a couple meetings back,” Duffey said, “but then they decided they should come up with a plan how to spend it first. In addition, the property owners do not get to elect the BID board members, but yet they can increase our BID tax.”

The mayor appoints BID board members.

Duffey is also opposed to the possibility of the BID hiring an executive director, another recent proposal by the BID board. “Currently, as it is, the board is not accountable to the property owners,” she said. “I am not interested in having my money being used to hire someone who is not accountable to me. I think property owners are better off keeping their own money. I think we should use our money to make improvements to our buildings.”

Brazeau shares similar sentiments.

“I don’t think the BID has ever lived up to its potential,” he said. “And I do not think it ever will. The board has a hard time even keeping four (executive) board members and as of right now there are only three. If you cannot even keep an interested board of four members, then why do we even have this?”

Like Duffey, Brazeau originally supported the BID.

“At first I did support it and signed the form supporting the creation of the BID. Per Tony (Zielinski), the BID would bring many, many great things to KK Avenue. The BID has been around since 2009. I do not feel it has lived up to Tony’s promise.”

Lee Barczak, who has served as the BID board president since 2013, hopes to salvage and rejuvenate the BID.

He points out that the KK BID’s annual budget is one of the two smallest of the 48 Milwaukee BIDs. The assessment was originally set at a low percentage when Zielinski was soliciting property owners’ support to establish the BID.

Barczak said it has been a struggle to find board members because of the amount of work that is asked of them in their roles as unpaid, volunteer board members, who are expected to lead committees and who often wind up doing much of the committee work themselves. But he said he has verbal commitments from five people to join the board and he is optimistic that in a month or so, he will have  re-established a full board of seven. He said in the past the BID has had as many as 27 volunteer committee members who were dedicated and hardworking.

A change in the assessment scheme for Milwaukee-based BIDs reduces the amount of taxes they can collect. As reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the new Wisconsin budget stipulates that only the commercial, not residential, portions of mixed-use buildings can be taxed.

That means the KK BID’s budget, already one of the smallest, will be further reduced, which is one of the reasons Barczak wants to consider raising the assessment in Bay View. He said its annual budget would be reduced by 20 percent as a result of the reduced assessments, and noted that there has never been a cost-of-living increase in the assessments since the BID started in 2009.

What has the BID spent money on?

For the past several years, the BID has paid for flower baskets to be hung along the BID corridor and the hand-wrought brackets that secure them to the light poles. It paid for the landscaping and snow removal at the Art Stop bus stop on Kinnickinnic and Howell/Lincoln. And until funds run out, it pays for graffiti removal on BID buildings.

In 2017, it contributed to five murals that were painted on buildings in the BID.

Barczak thinks the BID would benefit from hiring a part-time administrator, the term he prefers rather than executive. The administrator’s role would include dealing with city issues and communicating with the city, in addition to being in charge of the BID’s website.

Ideally, he said, he’d like to operate the board with an annual budget of $180,000. With that, he thinks he could create initiatives to “help do things that add to the excitement of owning a building in the BV BID.”

Stacy and Debbie Leszczynski own and operate Excel Printing, 3374 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. From the beginning of the BID, they have felt that the south end of the district (south of Oklahoma Avenue) was ignored. They smarted the first year that the BID hung flower baskets in the district north of Oklahoma only. “In 10 years or more, they have only cared about the north end. They take money from all the owners from Bay Street to Morgan Avenue but they spend it on the north end. In 10 years our end has gotten a garbage can and hanging baskets,” she said. A number of years ago she tried unsuccessfully to be appointed to the BID board.

Steve Ste. Marie, who owns the Maytag Laundromat, 2510 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., supports the BID. As a former BID board member, he said he knows board members are expected to contribute time, both attending board meetings and leading the programs of its various committees. While he thinks a fivefold assessment increase “is a little stiff,” he thinks the BID would benefit from a paid executive director to run the BID.

Department of City Development spokesperson Jeff Fleming said DCD is responsible for overseeing the operations of the city’s BIDs ensuring that they comply with the laws, rules, and expectations, which include an obligation to accountability. It also works with BIDs to get them back on track.

He said that the city will withhold dispersal of BID 44’s 2018 operating funds until the board posts its missing meeting minutes, its last audit, and its annual plan (budget). He said the city can dissolve a BID per statute but “the most important thing we do is support a BID to make it successful.”

Fleming said DCD is in consultation with BID 44 to “beef up its board” and noted that it is not unique in the challenges it faces. “We understand they are working to meet their requirements,” he said.

Zielinski is taking a laissez-faire approach.

He said he wanted a BID in Bay View because he felt the area deserved the same options as other parts of the city and because there was sufficient support to create the BID.

However he said, “It is the right for an area to say we don’t want this tool.  I support the wishes of the impacted area. While a great many parts of the city support this tool, our area may be the exception. If it dissolved, he said he doesn’t plan on reviving it.” He said he admires Barczak for his dedication to Bay View and the BID.

“The president of the BID is Lee Barczak,” said Zielinski “He is a hero in my book. He purchased the Avalon Theatre for our neighborhood when he could have made a lot more money by investing in something else. He has not only put his money where his mouth is but he has dedicated countless hours to the BID. Lee understands the value of a BID if other people are willing to help. But he cannot do it all by himself. If there are not other people to help, the BID will dissolve.”

Duffey and Brazeau said they think they will obtain sufficient signatures to dissolve the BID. They are not bound by a deadline but they hope to complete their petition by early February, at which time they will present it to the city and request dissolution.

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