Council Approves Business Aid, TIF Plan & Adjusts Building Permit Fees

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Cameron Bren

MIDDLETON–The City of Middleton Common Council approved two measures aimed to assist local businesses impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. An amendment to the TIF district #3 project plan and a hike in building permits fees were also approved by the council at its Sept. 15 meeting. 

To assist local businesses the council conceptually approved a loan program titled Middleton Economic Relief Loan or MERL in collaboration with Middleton Area Development Corporation (MADC). The city’s portion of the loan fund would come from a State Trust Fund Loan program. City finance staff said other funds could be used while the city waits for the state funds.

The conceptual proposal calls for a collaborative low-interest loan program with favorable payback terms. MADC would match the city’s $100,000, for a total of $200,000, and administer the loan program.

City administrator Mike Davis said memorandum of agreement with MADC will be prepared for the next council meeting. 

Mayor Gurdip Brar praised the work put into developing the conceptual program. 

“This a step in the right direction and it is good that it is moving forward,” Brar said. 

The second measure aimed to assist businesses is an ordinance which temporarily establishes the green space west of City Hall as "City Hall Commons" for use as a park. The park designation permits the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages. The ordinance has a sunset date of March 31, 2021.

District 8 Alder Mark Sullivan asked if the city could legally designate the site as a park since it was purchased using tax increment financing (TIF) funds which is prohibited by state law. 

City attorney Larry Bechler said because the designation is temporary he does not have any concerns. Sullivan asked what would happen if the ordinance is extended. 

“I don’t want us to get into a situation where we seem to be perpetually renewing this ordinance and this becomes as a matter of fact it becomes a park,” Sullivan said.

District 4 Alder Emily Kuhn said she would personally advocate against extending the designation beyond the length of the COVID-19 pandemic.

An amendment to the city’s TIF district #3 project plan is one step closer to final approval. Middleton’s TID #3 is considered to be one of the most successful in the state having already returned $340 million to the city in previous subtractions.

With the amendment approved by the council it goes before the TIF District Joint Board of Review. If approved the amendment would subtract $163 million from the TID #3. While $100 million would be used to lower property taxes the rest would cover the cost of infrastructure projects. 

The council also approved fee adjustments for building permits. City building inspector Jim Sjolander proposed the adjustments which have not changed since 2012. The adjusted permit fees correlate to the value of the project and in most cases increase. Sjolander said the increase was negligible. Permit fees for sprinkler and fire alarms are reduced to align with the state’s plan review schedule.

Mayor Brar said the increases do not seem negligible when calculated as a percent, noting one as high as 56 percent. Alder Sullivan said the jump in fees may seem high because they have not been adjusted for eight years. He said the fees are minimal compared to the cost of a given project.

Brar asked how builders will react to the adjustments. 

District 7 Alder Dan Ramsey said the adjusted rates are running up against what the market will bear in the area.

Brar asked how Middleton compares to surrounding communities. Sjolander said the rates are similar though other communities do not have quite as many fees though the city’s additional fees were created intentionally to address problems.

“By looking at these reviews and doing these permits we can get these problems fixed before we show up on the site and have to have them tear it all out and redo it,” Sjolander said.

Brar asked what adjustment was made for single family homes. Sjolander said that permit fee was only raised by two cents.

City attorney Bechler said it is important to keep building fees up to date. He suggested the council review the fees annually or biannually at the least. 

“When we don’t raise our fees we get behind which means the general taxpayers subsidize those who are taking out building permits and paying fees,” Bechler said.

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