|By Dean Mosiman, The Wisconsin State
JournalMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Nov. 6, 2009--To protect taxpayers, Madison City Council members are challenging Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's spending proposals for a new central library and redevelopment of the Edgewater hotel.
Cieslewicz strongly opposes the changes, among 24 proposed amendments to his $185.8 million capital and $239.4 million operating budgets, saying they could delay or kill the new library and Edgewater project.
The $37 million library is the city's biggest building project since Monona Terrace, which opened in 1997, and $16 million in proposed tax incremental financing (TIF) assistance for the Edgewater is among the city's largest TIF investments ever.
The council will consider the mayor's proposed budgets beginning on Tuesday.
Ald. Michael Schumacher, 18th District, and two others are proposing an amendment that would delay binding development and construction agreements on the library until the city secures $6 million in federal tax credits and $4 million of $10 million in private fundraising that are part of the mayor's financing plan.
Schumacher and six others are also seeking to erase $16 million in tax incremental financing (TIF) support for the $93 million Edgewater project.
Cieslewicz wants the city to use $37 million in borrowing, $6 million federal tax credits and $10 million in private fundraising over three years to pursue the Fiore Cos.' proposal for a six-story library at Henry Street and West Washington Avenue that would be part of a larger redevelopment.
But Schumacher said the city shouldn't move forward until tax credits are secure and at least $4 million is privately pledged.
The library "could be delayed by a year, possibly, probably," Schumacher said. But the amendment protects taxpayers and motivates private donors to step up sooner rather than later, he said.
Cieslewicz said the amendment could force the city to miss attractive construction prices and federal bonds that bring low interest rates. "At a minimum, it hobbles the project," he said. "It probably kills it."
At the Edgewater, the Hammes Co. is proposing to restore the original hotel, shave two floors off a 1973 addition for a public terrace offering sweeping views to Lake Mendota, build a grand staircase to the waterfront and erect an eight-story hotel tower. The TIF investment, which Hammes says would be repaid in five years, is for underground parking, the terrace and staircase.
Schumacher said it's too soon to budget $16 million -- $8 million in 2010 and $8 million in 2011 -- in TIF for the Edgewater project, which is only starting the city review process. The project is supported by business and labor but has stirred concerns about building height, traffic and parking.
"We don't even know what the project is going to look like," Schumacher said, stressing that the removal of the TIF isn't a vote against the project.
The budget, Cieslewicz said, doesn't guarantee $16 million in TIF but simply lets the city invest up to that amount without needing a tough-to-get 15-vote council super majority.
The Edgewater proposal, he said, needs many approvals, but cutting the TIF authorization sends a "very strong," negative message to the developer and "all but kills" the project.
Among other proposed amendments, Schumacher wants to increase Community Services spending in the operating budget by $370,000 to help youth and families hit hardest by the recession. Cieslewicz opposes the amendment as too expensive.
In the capital budget, Ald. Jed Sanborn, 1st District, and others would cut $5 million in borrowing to buy lands for future development, $1.9 million in TIF funding for improvements around Capitol Square, and $982,000 in borrowing for improvements to a Central Park on the near East Side. The mayor strongly wants to move ahead with the park.
Ald. Mike Verveer, 4th District, wants to add $50,000 for homelessness prevention, and Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway, 12th District, and others want to restore $30,000 in funding for public-access station WYOU, and a total of $112,140 to restore staff at city agencies.
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