Black Earth election coverage

Candidates answer questions

The Black Earth Chamber planned to have a candidate forum for those running for office in Black Earth on April 2. It had to be cancelled. The chamber wrote to each candidate:

“In the interest of public safety, we have decided to cancel the in-person candidate forum previously schedule for Thursday, April 2, 2020. Instead we have decided to publish answers to the questions listed below. We would appreciate it if you would briefly answer these questions and return them to this email address. We apologize for the short notice but in the interest of time and a deadline of April 2nd for publication we need your reply.

Your answers will be shared in their entirety via a link to the Village website, posted on community Facebook pages, and the chamber’s website. In a partnership with Star News your answers will be published in the newspaper and posted on the newspaper’s website, though these responses may need to be edited for space considerations. The publication in the newspaper will take place prior to April 2nd, the date absentee ballots need to be completed by voters.”

 

Do you support the use of tax increment financing as a tool for economic development, job growth and expanding the Village’s tax base and why?

Mitch Hodson: TIF is a valuable tool in helping revitalize a target area or bring new business to the area. The misconception is that the schools lose tax dollars. The 10-year payback is paid with the increased taxable amount based on increase value of the property. The existing taxes are still paid and after 10 years [and] everyone gains.

 Tyler Munson: Yes. Upfront costs to redevelop properties cost more than starting a new building project. TIF gives developers a sense of predictable future costs as well as helps them justify the long term payback for costs of redevelopment vs. new construction

 Mary Scott: There is financial risk to using TIF. Also, whether or not a TIF program is successful is the direct result of how prudent and thorough the provisions of the policy are that dictate how it is administered in the community. Development projects must be approached with caution because there are upfront costs that the constituents support through their property taxes and the benefit of the new tax revenue achieved by the development plan can take a couple decades to reap. Therefore, it is vital to determine whether or not the development project is a good fit for this community at any time. Also, it must be determined if the development would take place without the Village’s investment. These two factors must be deliberated so that financial resources are not tied up in a long term investment of minimal benefit that could otherwise be used to serve more pressing needs of our Village. Whether or not the development plan promotes significant economic development or job growth in the Village is specific to the plan itself. I believe it is a decision for the constituents of the Village to approve the use of TIF on a case by case basis. We should all be provided with detailed, written disclosure of the business plan. This includes the up-front costs and terms, as well as the effect the development will have on property taxes for the term of the agreement and beyond. Total transparency is without question essential. As a public servant for the Village Board, it would be my job to be diligent with this information and act on behalf of the wishes of the people of the Village. 

Ted Pritchett: Yes, I do because we have previously used to redevelop the downtown such as East 14 Salon and Macker Backer with TIF funds and grant money. We consolidated some of the TIF districts to include downtown redevelopment.

Jared Brammerson: I do not support the TIF economic model. More often than not it is mismanaged in favor of the developer leaving the local residents with higher taxes and nothing more to show for the deal. A prime example of this is the Foxconn deal in Mount Pleasant, WI.

 

How do you plan to involve residents in the decision-making process in our Village?

Hodson: First you must be open to listening. It is also important to let people know when the discussions are happening so they can voice opinions. Sometimes the best plan comes together from listening to others who might show you a way you didn’t think of.

 Munson: Currently board meetings and committee meetings are announced in the paper, at the bank and village office. I would propose that these meetings, especially the committee meetings, be announced via social media groups like “We Are Black Earth, WI”. In order to help residents then engage with the process, rather than just be aware of the process, I would recommend using a service like Zoom during committee meetings to reduce scheduling conflicts which limit public input.

 Scott: If elected, I will insist that the citizens of Black Earth are kept informed and encourage community activism and involvement by being a positive presence. I will respond to inquiries from the public and I will make sure that our Village website offers the information the public needs and wants in a timely manner.

Pritchett: All meetings are open to public and all Black Earth citizens are encouraged to attend. All agendas are posted on the village website and also posted around town.

Brammerson: I would involve residents in the decision making process by encouraging them to attend the monthly board and committee meetings. I would also use social media and informational flyers to help all residents to stay informed of local decisions that will affect them.

 

How do you envision the Village in the future?

Hodson: Some people say we don’t have much to offer in a small town. They should have seen everyone come together during the flood. We do need to grow but need to do it responsibly and look at the effects on the area. You need some growth to help pay for infrastructure replacement and draw business. 

Munson: I hope that Black Earth keeps its rural roots while having a thriving downtown on Mills Street and that the parks continue to improve. Smart development would allow for outdoors activities to be accessible, while keeping farms present and a busy downtown and perhaps even include a growth in the school district requiring a separate middle school. 

 Scott: I envision Black Earth as being more reliant on affordable approaches to achieving some of our economic infrastructure goals such as shared services, privatization, and volunteerism versus relying on property tax increases to develop our Village. 

Pritchett: Build more subdivisions to help keep taxes in check and keep enrollment up for the Wisconsin Heights school district. Possible redevelopment of downtown with mixed use with housing & business space.

Brammerson: The future of the Village is already here. I am a prime example of the urban sprawl and the desire to live outside of the Madison center while still maintaining a career there. We can embrace it now by improving our support for local businesses or we can watch it pass us by in favor of our neighboring communities.

 

If someone came to you with a proposal to build a new piece of public infrastructure in our Village (road, bridge, etc.) how would you evaluate whether that project was worth implementing?

Hodson: You would need to look at what the cost is and the impact to the area. You would need to see if any value added or payback to the taxpayer makes sense. You would have public hearings and an engineering study to help make a responsible decision.

 Munson: I would first assess how many residents of the village would benefit from the improvement and how much it would cost per benefited resident. I would compare that to other projects that are up for consideration. Additionally, to considering [the sheer] number of benefited residents, I would consider the severity of benefit to each resident. Such as, comparing a project that is going to fix a nuisance problem for many residents (like doing more than patchwork for minor potholes) vs. a project that could potentially save the lives of a handful of residents (like stocking AEDs at parks). 

Scott: Any project regarding Village business must be presented to the Board and in the proper setting. Once presented properly, I would review and research the information with my colleagues and foster conversation to determine the risks versus rewards and the financial prudence of the project for the community. I would compare the project to the Village’s Comprehensive Plan’s vision to determine if the project is a good fit. Then, in the interest of full transparency, I would make sure that the community is notified of all the details. 

Pritchett: If the infrastructure were to be used to building roads for new development it would definitely be an idea to look at the plans.

Brammerson: I would evaluate a proposal for new public infrastructure based on the overall value provided to the community. If a project is going to provide minimal value to the community while also raising property taxes, like the concession stand project that is currently on going, then I would not support the proposal.

 

If the Village received a $1 million grant to use in any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why?

Hodson: I would look at all areas within the village to see what the greatest needs are. I would also ask for ideas from everyone. One area we are always in need of upgrading is infrastructure.

 Munson: I would first find a way to gather public feedback on the grant and how it should be used. However, if I were the sole decider, I would place $400,000 into an investment fund to allow the use of interest earned to purchase and maintain equipment, or attend training sessions, for BE police, fire, and library staff. $350,000 would be allocated to build, maintain, and operate an uncovered, seasonal ice rink at Community Park. $250,000 would be given to Gateway to the Driftless to use explicitly for obtaining land easements, and construction of a trail connecting the Wolf Run Trail at the MS/HS to Black Earth.

 Scott: If I am elected, I will proudly serve as a member of the Board and I will look forward to a healthy exchange of ideas. My enthusiasm to work with others is encouraged by my desire to be a public servant of the citizens of Black Earth. My priority would be to determine what the constituents want done with the million dollars. I would suggest a referendum appear on the ballot of the next election. If the grant money cannot be used to pay off Village debt, I would like to see a community center developed on an existing property. This would be a place for young and old to go for social interaction and entertainment while providing outreach and community support through programs and events.  

Pritchett: Repair the aging infrastructure that the village has had to postpone because of budget constraints. i.e. the aging water mains, sewer mains, streets, sidewalks, curb and gutter.

Brammerson: First, that money would belong to the residents of the village and what I personally would do with it doesn’t matter. Second, I would put a request out to the residents to provide a list of projects that they would like to see within their village, and then decide from that list which ones would benefit the village as a whole.

 

What would you like to see changed in the Village and why?

Hodson: I would like to see more small business. This is vital to keeping taxes down and increase our daytime population. We can always use more daytime help for emergency services. 

 Munson: I would like to see communication between the residents and the village be more efficient. This would be achieved by increased active outreach by the village and improving the website and content. The village is better with an engaged, educated and constructive public body.

 Scott: I would like to see more community activism amongst the citizens of Black Earth. This involvement is essential for the President, trustees, and employees of the Village and is the only way to develop our community conscientiously and sustainably. It is incumbent upon these entities to encourage and nurture this participation of the people of Black Earth through effective communication, collaboration, and a friendly, welcoming presence. 

Pritchett: Black Earth citizens taking a more active role in the community and getting more involved. I think anyone who is interested in their village should get involved in their community and take a stand of how they want the village to progress in the future.

Brammerson: I would like to see more community involvement within our political structure. In the past there has been little civilian oversight which has led to corruption and mismanagement of community funds. Businesses have been driven out and bad project deals have been made that have hurt the progress of the village.

 

What are some ways to attract new businesses to the Village?

Hodson: TIF is one way to help target areas and help bring business to Black Earth. It is also important to plan and have an area to draw business to the area. We must also be business friendly.

Munson: Population growth, TIF, high speed internet, and reliable infrastructure are key factors to attracting employers to redevelop a town like Black Earth. Quality parks and schools help attract an initial population growth to support local service businesses. Then non-service oriented businesses can move in as well with the other infrastructure and financing measures mentioned above.

Scott: I believe that community amenities, public functions, and organizations are a great way to encourage and exude community pride and support. I believe a strong community is attractive to a new business because a community like this is sociable, alive, and vibrant. What better place is there to grow a business? 

Pritchett: It’s hard to attract businesses to our village, because of the short distance to Madison. One of the problems is that the people do not want shop in stores and prefer to shop online. We have been trying to attract businesses to town. We don’t have a lot of area to expand at his time, unless we redevelop the downtown business district area.

Brammerson: I believe we need to focus on our small town persona and eco-tourism in order to bring in new businesses. There is a lot of traffic through the village, but no reason for tourists to stop and spend time within the village. If we had attractions that tourists wanted to visit then they would need shops and restaurants to visit as well.

 

Do you have a project you would like to see accomplished during your term?

Hodson: I would like to see the village bring in more business and keep taxes down to make it affordable to live.

Munson: I would like to see the village start to budget for infrastructure and park improvements to attract families and tourism, such as the construction of an outdoor seasonal skating rink, with a plan to construct within four to five years. I would also like to see the Village help with plans to connect Black Earth to the MS/HS with a pedestrian path within four to five years. If either could be accomplished during the next two years, even better.

Scott: If I am elected to the Village Board, I would like to share my ideas for The Black Earth Community Park and broaden the use and scope of the park as a vibrant community space that can host public functions and seasonal celebrations attractive to citizens and visitors for camaraderie and fun. 

Pritchett: Continue to keep the village moving forward, which I have for the last eight years in my role on the board. Try to keep the taxes in check and maintain the small town atmosphere that everyone is accustomed to.

Brammerson: A project I would like to see accomplished is the Gateway to the Driftless’ proposal to extend the bike/nature trail that would connect Cross Plains and Mazomanie to Black Earth. I feel this will help drive the eco-tourism and business opportunities I spoke to in the previous questions.

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