Monday, July 19, 2010

Monona City Council Summary - July 19, 2010

The Monona city council approved the three items noted in my earlier post with little discussion:

Consideration of Resolution 10-07-1712 Approval of Settlement with Homburg Equipment, Inc. and Homburg Realty, Inc. (City Attorney). (Amount of $5000).
Awarded a bid for the 2010 Slurry Seal Program (City Engineer). Streets in the program are Arrowhead, Vogts, Tonywatha, Roigan, Shore Acres and Lamboley. Also Kilgust Drive.
Approved extending the life of Tax Incremental District #3 For the Purpose of Funding Renew Monona Loan Program (CDA).

The item that generated the most discussion was the Presentation of Draft Designs and Plans for Entryway Feature, Ken Saiki Design, Inc. The entryway feature located at Monona Drive and the Beltline needs updating. The proposal calls for much more extensive work to the tune of almost $300,000. The council has budgeted $160,000 for the project. Most of the council rebelled at the amount, me included.

How important is an entryway feature to the city's image or otherwise? How is it important? Does it really define the city? How important is the city's image? Is $300,000 too much? Is $160,000 too much? These are not rhetorical questions; I invite your comments.

Monona City Council Preview - July 19, 2010


  1. What the heck? Who is managing this design process on behalf of the city? Did the designer know the budget? 160k as opposed to 300k? If so, then why did he submit a plan nearly double the cost. Get rid of him and get someone who will respect the budget. If he wasn't given a budget, what the heck is up with that? Why was staff and council time wasted discussing a project that is way beyond a reasonable budget? Who hires a designer and doesn't give the person a budget? Why was a design brought before the council that was nearly double the budgeted amount? This fellow should have been sent back to the drawing board before it ever came before you guys!

  2. After seeing Ken Saiki's design for the entryway, I was very impressed. This design would certainly grab the attention from motorists entering Monona Drive from the Beltline. (Whether we should be grabbing the attention of motorists at this intersection is another question.) I can easily see how we might get swept up by the "wow factor" of the entrance feature design, and lose sight of the relative importance of such a project. This isn't a facility that could be used directly by families or businesses. Rather, it would be an ornament (granted, a very beautiful one) at one of many entrances into our city. In my opinion, the proposed price tag of $300k is disproportionate to the value it would provide to the city. However, at the end of the discussion last night, it was decided that the Plan Commission would work with Mr. Saiki to come up with alternate designs with reduced scope (e.g. $160k, $200k, $240k, etc.) I am excited to see what Mr. Saiki proposes for scaled-down versions of this feature. Based on what I saw last night, I’m sure his firm has the ability to design a beautiful and memorable entry way to our city that doesn’t break the bank.

  3. Monona Rag had this posted about the entrance way and the cost, too. I am not in favor of anything that would cost that much. I would love to see an improvement of that area and do something to coordinate with the new stonework that is being installed with the Monona Drive construction. I would love you to stay in budget (and to me $160k is about $60k too much).

    I would love to see money put towards improving facades on the street. if we are going to put $300000 towards anything. I think we could maybe "unify" or offer some sort of matching grant to property owners along Monona Drive. I think the dated and run down facades are worse than our sign. For instance, I love that Tullys put in improvements. I think that there are other businesses that would follow suit if there was an incentive to do so.

  4. Yes, I saw it over there, too. (With pictures!)

    [There is money in the TIF #4 budget for the facade program (more than we need), but TIF #4 isn't generating TIF revenue, it just takes revenue from TIF #2 (Pier 37).]

    $300K isn't going to happen, but people should show up and put in their two cents worth (or more).

  5. Doug,

    300,000 grand?
    Say it ain't so? I found that number mind boggling? The entrance to a city is important, but I think that number is nuts. What we have now is fine. I would rather the money be spent in the following ways:
    update the pool (anything)
    kill geese (yes Kill)
    anything for our library
    fix that darn pavilion
    improve any park

    The practical infrastructure of our city is much more important than dressing up in the finest clothes that we really could not afford in the first palce.

  6. "What the heck? Who is managing this design process on behalf of the city? Did the designer know the budget?"

    The designer and the Plan Commission expanded the scope of the project. I don't have a huge problem with that; they were arguably doing their job to give us a broader look.

    I just think $300K is too much money.

  7. Yeah, it's arguable alright, especially if the designer is being paid for his time. Who would think that a $300,000 project would fly with the citizens of Monona, especially when $160,000 was budgeted? If the designer isn't being paid by the hour, I'll back off. Otherwise I do not understand why anyone within our city government would authorize a designer to do something that common sense says won't fly with the public.

    I'd love a $60,000 kitchen remodel. But if I can only afford a $20,000 remodel, I'm not going to ask a designer to lay out that 60K kitchen for me!

    I don't understand why we are spending money on this at all. The current situation looks just fine to me. Good grief, most cities have a population sign and one of those billboards with the Rotary club, Lions club and "1963 State Champions - Boys Ping Pong" on it. What's with this obsession about having something so fancy just off the beltline? Especially a space that can't be used by anyone or anything?

  8. The upgrading and replacement of the sails has been budgeted for several years and is certainly long overdue. I thought the mayor explained the need and importance of this community enhancement very well at Monday's council meeting. (Watch the video when it is posted on the city's website) He too thought the $300,000 was too much, but felt an additional amount above the budgeted $160k was warranted for the broadened scope of this important project. I totally agree but am more concerned that the project won't happen while the current Monona Drive construction is in progress. That would be a shame since we have certainly had ample time to get this project planned and completed. Get 'er done.

  9. This project to enhance the entry feature is absurd. Who convinced the city that anything even needed to be done?

    When I heard about this project, I thought it was to get rid of some grass and add plantings (hoping they would be of the low-maintenance, native variety for logic's sake). To learn that they want to spend $160k is bad enough, but to even contemplate $300 is nuts.

    There are so many ways to spend money that have a direct benefit to people. One of them would be to NOT spend the money, but just put it in the rainy day fund, as we're going to have many more rainy days in our future. I could come up with a list of hundreds of more valuable ways to spend OUR money, but I refrain for now.

    The way I see it, the entry feature is a padded bra on a skinny teenager with braces and acne. It's trying to distract from Monona’s not-so-great features and cover up our self-esteem issues. Unfortunately, the jig is up the moment anyone gets beyond the Broadway/Monona intersection.

    Let us grow up, and as we develop, we will fill out our own bra. By getting our braces off (Monona Drive!) and inviting in businesses that clear up our blotchy "skin," the padded bra that is the entry feature won't seem so worthy of enhancement. As a matter of fact, we might look back on the whole thing and think it was a folly and a waste of our money.

    As it stands, the entry feature promotes our community as intimately connected to and engaged with our lake, a place we must love to sail and swim. Ha! How incongruous! The entry feature is marketing us as something we aren’t because our lakes are a mess. Put the $300k into lake clean-up, dog-poop patrols, more education about keeping debris and leaves out of the gutters, and that sort of thing and then our values will be more in line with the existing entry feature.

    I would hope the city council would consider something much, much simpler -- at most costing $10k – or, even better: nothing at all.

  10. A reality check here. The $160,000 budgeted is TIF money and has to be spent in a TIF District for TIF projects, so it can only be spent on limited items in a limited geopgraphic area.

    The money won't go in a rainy day fund. Not spending the money *would* hasten the day that the TIF projects are paid off, the TIF is closed, and the increased property values go on the general tax roll. (Granted, right now TIF #2 is paying much of Monona's share for the Monona Drive project and that is saving taxpayers about $1 million according to the finance director).

    Reality check number two. If you want these comments to go beyond creating a buzz in the local blogosphere, then you need to show up at a council meeting and say so. Second best is to contact alders and the mayor, but it is second best by a long, long distance. Show up and voice your opinion.

  11. ENTRY FEATURE: MONONA......Slow down and enjoy it.
    Posted at all entries. Paid for by speeding tickets.

  12. Second best, by a long, long distance is contact the mayor and alders? Seriously, Doug? That's how it works around here? My email opinion counts less than if I show up at your meeting? I suppose I should give you credit for copping to the fact that this council is reactive only when they are stormed by bodies at their meetings. But this is terribly disrespectful to people who bother to pick up the phone or compose an email or letter. It is representative of the dysfunction in this community. Not all of us have lives that enable us to come to your meetings. If we bother to contact via phone or mail, I do not understand why that is not as valid as a public appearance. Why doesn't someone read the letters aloud? That puts it in front of the entire council and the public too? If council members receive phone calls, why not summarize those for the other council members?

  13. "Second best, by a long, long distance is contact the mayor and alders? Seriously, Doug? That's how it works around here? My email opinion counts less than if I show up at your meeting?"

    In my observation, in-person interaction has a much greater impact. I think this is true in other settings, not just city council business. And I didn't say you need to 'storm the meeting'. It's not even necessarily just about numbers.

  14. I think we need to understand TIF better. As I understand it, these properties are off the tax roll. Taxes are still levied, but at the pre-improvement rate, and that money goes into improvements for the TIF district, right? While they are off the tax rolls, the tax levy stays whatever it is, thus our mil rate goes up to compensate for the lost revenue so the total levy can be achieved. So, this is our tax dollars at work. Since this is an improvement to a public property, it's not like it will result in a property that eventually has a higher assesment, thereby paying a bigger piece of the levy pie, correct? Please errors/assumptions. Thanks.

  15. "I think we need to understand TIF better."

    The property in a TIF district is still taxed and is taxed at the same rate as every other property. The taxes derived from the base value of the property (the value at the time the TIF district is created) still go to all the regular property-taxing districts (City, schools, MATC, County, State).

    The taxes on the incresed value of the property all go to the city, but can only be used for TIF project expenses.

    Once all the TIF projects are paid for and the district is finished ('defeased'), then the taxes on the increased value also get split up among all the regular property-taxing districts.

    A recent significant change in TIF law allows one TIF district to donate funds to another one. Thus, TIF #2 (Pier 37 for short) has generated large value increases and thus large TIF revenues. TIF #4, the Monona Drive corridor, is not generating revenue, but is generating costs (i.e. the road project). We are using the TIF #2 revenue to pay for part of our share of the Monona Drive project. Doing so allows us to avoid borrowing for those funds and results in a large savings.

    However, it also delays the day when the TIF #2 will be terminated and the increased property taxes will go to help pay for the schools, MATC, etc. That delay doesn't mean it is a bad deal for the schools, etc. because we are generating more property value increases in the long run.

    By the way, the base value of TIF is about $18 million and the TIF increment is about $58 million.

    For more:

  16. According to the Monona Rag, 100K is for sod alone. I think the new design looks great, but it seems like we could move to a more sustainable solution and save a lot of money by skipping sod in favor of something else.

  17. Carl,

    Yes, the Rag says "A $100,000 of the proposal is just for re-sodding the area."

    The Rag is wrong. There is $100,000 in the estimate for landscaping, not re-sodding.

    Nonetheless, the $100,000 figure for landscaping is excessive and certatinly caught my attention and that of others.

    To see the presentation:

    Ken Saiki is going to be t the Plan Commission next Monday with revised plans.

  18. Thanks for the clarification. That makes more sense.

  19. I hate to say it, but I'm with Anon above with his, um, vivid comparison to a push-up bra. It's a very pretty lawn ornament on *one* of the 4 main entrances to Monona (E. Broadway, W. Broadway and Monona Drive being the other 3, all of which avoid the area in question). I drive by it so infrequently that I had to look up on google streetview exactly where it was. However, as anon stated, it's trying to hide the
    vacant storefronts on Monona Drive and Broadway, along with the mishmash of architectural styling and downright dated look of the rest of the buildings along Monona Drive.

    Do you *really* think that a $160k (or worse, $300k) mound is going to make people not notice the abandoned building complete with chain-link fence around it 1/8th of a mile later? Or the deserted bank (restaurant?) a little further up on the right-hand side?

    If the money can be spent to improve the overall appearance of MD, great. If not, I'd say leave everything as-is and pay down the TIF faster.

  20. Reality check #455:

    Maybeif the TIF is paid off sooner then we can do something that directly benefits residents. I

  21. "Maybe...we can do something that directly benefits residents."

    You dreamer. ;->

    OK, what did you have in mind?

    (And we don't do anything that directly benefits residents? Monona Drive rebuild, for example?)

  22. I also find it amusing that we think sailboats represent what Monona is all about. Monona may be on the lake, but we have almost no public lake frontage. Schluter and Frostwoods beaches are icky, the lake parks are all small and none of them have an adequate shelter where you could hold, say, a family reunion or birthday party. Most of us in Monona can't see the lake from our home, nor have handy access to it. This whole sailboat thing has no relevance for me or anyone else in my neighborhood.