The Ladysmith Common Council voted 4-2, at its Aug. 10 meeting, to approve earmarking up to $100,000 for the Main Street Façade Improvement Loan Program now that a first round of funding has been carried out.

The façade program is funded through city Tax Incremental District revenue and overseen by the Ladysmith Main Street Program in an effort to enhance the appearance of the city’s downtown. In 2013, the council approved $52,000 for the program that has since funded eight projects. Projects are funded through Main Street façade money with a portion matched by the building owner. Repayment of façade loans is required on sale of a building.

Main Street is also funded through the city and Ladysmith Industrial Development Corporation. 

The city council’s action came with questions, mostly from Ald. Marty Reynolds, who recently had been named a finalist for the new Main Street director position. That position eventually went to current Main Street Director Andy Strom, who is also Rusk County Chamber of Commerce office manager.

City officials at the meeting were shown three possible Worden Avenue façade projects now in the design phase.

Reynolds, who eventually voted in favor of the city’s façade loan earmark, said he doesn’t have problem with the funding, only that he believes the program director should appear before the council if that organization wants $100,000 in city money.

“If the Main Street Program needs $100,000 he should be here,” Reynolds said. “We got a new Main Street director in May. Where is he at?”

Reynolds spoke in favor of the face program, saving his criticism for the director position he applied for and did not get.

“I don’t have a problem with the façade program. I think it has a lot of potential, and it does a lot of good, or could do a lot of good if people we re willing to put some money into investing in the downtown, in their store, their building or whatever.”

City Administrator Alan Christianson called the three face improvement projects now in the pipeline significant upgrades.

The council also recently approved earmarking up to $300,000 to help businesses through a Business Emergency Relief Fund program. So far the city has paid out $50,000 in BERF requests. There is still $250,000 available.

Christianson told the council if it doesn’t spend the TID money by specified deadline dates, the TID revenue reverts to other taxing jurisdictions, including the school district, county and technical college.

He highlighted the façade project proposals on Worden Avenue, where businesses last year suffered expensive road construction special assessments and this year lost business due to coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

“It is about economic development. It is about investment in the community. I certainly wouldn’t want to hamstring any of our downtown businesses owners who have definitely been hit hard,” Christianson said. “I would hate to hamstring them, especially if there are ones who are really eager to make some nice improvements that will last a long time.”

Christianson told the council just because it is being asked to approve $100,000 for the façade program doesn’t mean all of it will be spent. 

Ald. Brian Groothousen noted changes to the façade program to make it easier to apply, noting last year the council acted to allow businesses to divert special assessments to help fund their share of façade projects.

“Ultimately, this is to help out businesses downtown,” Groothousen said.

The discussion was part of a larger presentation of possible or committed projects now totaling $960,000 funded through the city’s Tax Incremental Districts. These include:

— $60,000 on a Main Street Program pledge through 2023.

— $50,000 for the Business Economic Relief Fund currently with up to $300,000 earmarked

— $200,000 estimated for potential rail shelter improvements  in 2021.

— $150,000 estimated to potentially raze the former Methodist Church, Flambeauland Laundromat and Barb’s Flowerland in the city’s downtown.

— $500,000 estimated maximum to rebuild five downtown streets in 2021.

“That comes in under our current cash and well under our projected remaining life,” Christianson said.

When a municipality creates a TID, property values are frozen and taxing jurisdictions continue receiving property taxes on those frozen values while additional taxes on new growth within the TID help finance borrowing on improvements within the TID boundaries. When a TID expires, taxing jurisdictions begin collecting on new growth resulting from the created TID.

The final year for expenditures in the city’s TIDs are TID 8 at 2025, TID 9 at 2021, TID 10 at 2022 and TID 11 at 2026. The final recapture year for recapturing expenditures in the city’s TIDs are TID 8 at 2030, TID 9 at 2026, TID 10 at 2027 and TID 11 at 2031.

In 2019, the TIDs had an ending balance of about $1.02 million with a projected $4.36 million total revenue over their remaining lifespan.

“We are projected to have about what we would call $4 million to spend over the life of these TIDs,” Christianson said. “The whole purpose of having that extra five years after you have spent is you should be running your TIDs down to zero balance or into a negative balance doing some borrowing because you have those five years to capture the increment.”

The face program is funded through TID 8.

Groothousen said there are businesses showing interest in using the façade improvement program.

“The word needs to get out this is a very good program, but I don’t think we should drag our feet and put out roadblocks possibly that maybe  other businesses might think we may not be supporting this program,” Groothousen said

Groothousen said he has seen many good results from the façade program. He added budgets show there is money available to fund it.

Reynolds said the program has been in place for seven years, and some business owners don’t know about it. He cited the director position.

“I believe it needs to be promoted. I think someone has bitten off more than he can chew,” Reynolds said, citing Strom as holding roles as leading both Main Street and Chamber of Commerce.

Groothousen said the debate is about funding, not who is running the program.

“I think we need to focus,” Groothousen said.

Christianson told the council its’ $100,000 funding will be leveraging an equal match from private investment.

“If it does get spent out, that means local places are putting up $200,000 of their own money to make noticeable improvements in our community,” Christianson said. “I think we can certainly all agree that is something we would love to see. I can’t imagine anybody saying we don’t need to make any improvements. If we can get out private business folks involved, that is a win.”

Reynolds noted the city is trying to spend its TID money before the expenditure and recapture deadlines begin arriving. He again asked where is the Main Street director, since the program was being awarded $100,000.

“If I was looking for $100,000 I would be here asking for it,” Reynolds said. “This is a program that has been in place and no one seems to know what it is about.”

The council’s decision earmarks $100,000 for Main Street use on the façade program. The money is only spent as businesses request façade grants.

Voting against the city’s Main Street façade loan earmark were Alds. Allen Hraban and Gerard Schueller.

— In other matters, the council voted 5-1 to purchase new shelving for the renovated public works garage in the former U.S. Army Reserve Center on Summit Avenue. The purchase will be through the low-bidder of Bernies Equipment from Holmen at $20,922 over Fastenal at $21,244. There is still money in the renovation project budget to cover this cost, according to Public Works Director Kurt Gorsegner who called the lower bid much better quality equipment. Voting against was Ald. Bill Morgan, who called it “a complete waste of taxpayer dollars.”

Voted 6-0 to approve replacement of sidewalk and driveway approaches on E. Eighth Street S as a cost split between McCabe Construction, Chippewa Concrete and the city. The total cost to the city is $1,233.

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