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Housing is often a key to a successful community. If you ask someone what their ideal home is, you’ll get a wide variety of answers. Some people like a big house and a big yard, some want an efficiency apartment so they don’t have to shovel, cut grass, or fix things. Some will say a small house in a nice neighborhood where I can walk to the store, and still others just want a decent home they can afford.
People have different housing needs and we’ve been trying to address those needs. The Berkshire provides senior housing near downtown and the Lincoln Center. The Reserve provides student housing that offers an alternative to dormitory or group house living, and is also walkable to shopping and food. The Fourth Avenue project, on the former Grant School site, provides single family homes in a great neighborhood near parks. The market rate project on the former Point Motel site will provide quality apartments for young professionals near shopping and our larger employers. We also have the convent project to offer a quiet property, near shopping, for seniors who want to live with peers and have common space for activities. Many of these are walking distance to shopping and services and all of these are on public transportation routes.
We’re working on other projects that will help fill some gaps, like affordable and lower income units. Those are more challenging, but we have things in the works.
Having people living in certain areas provides opportunities to the residents and other developers. An example I often use is this:
People have been asking for a different type of grocery store downtown. We already have the Market on Strongs and the CO-OP is only a few blocks away, but some prefer a different option. I think they mean cheaper, but to have lower prices the grocer needs to buy larger quantities of product. If they buy larger quantities, they need to sell more product. They can’t have milk or breads expire on the shelf.
Now, the city doesn’t build grocery stores but what we CAN do is create an environment that is attractive to those who do. By having more people living in the downtown area, you have more customers to buy product. Seeing another 600 people in the neighborhood should get the attention of people who want to build a grocery or convenience store to serve those residents.
Our quality of life here is second to none. Over the past few years we have expanded our recreational choices. We now have over 30 parks, a beautiful river and more hiking, peddling, and paddling opportunities than ever before. We have live music with Levitt, Notes at Night, and many other local venues. We have four theater groups, sporting events, car shows, murals, and some of the most unique and creative things you’ll find anywhere, including the Umbrella man light, Creative Crosswalk, Trash Canvas, and Polkas on Ice. The more diverse we can be with recreation, the more people will choose to live here.
More diverse housing also attracts people here. If we can provide the type of housing someone wants, they’ll choose Stevens Point. More people mean a larger employee base. That will attract employers. We’ve already lost some great projects because we couldn’t meet the employee needs. I don’t want that to happen ever again.
As I said at the beginning, housing is key to a successful community. Stevens Point is working hard to meet the wide spectrum of housing needs. I know that each project isn’t for everyone, but understand that is it exactly what someone else does want.
Together we make our community great. Together, we move Stevens Point forward.
Even before COVID hit, good employees were getting difficult to find. We’re at a place now where anyone at all is getting difficult to find. This creates challenges, but also opportunities. We’ve been working on a variety of things that will help attract and retain our employee base. Quality of life is a big component. We have some great parks, live music, arts, and many recreational opportunities. We have also partnered with our employers and educational institutions to create pathways for training that isn’t available in many places. The apprentice programs start in high school and grow from there. MSTC’s new Advanced Manufacturing, Engineering, and Technology Apprenticeship Center will be a world class facility, drawing in students (and future employees) from all over the Midwest. Companies like Skyward and Sentry have recruitment/training programs to provide hands-on real world experience in technology careers. UWSP has added several pathways to degrees that are more in-tune with today’s needs, too.
With our older population retiring, it’s caused business models to shift. The City and other major employers have been working to be more flexible with time off, work hours and even offering part-time hours to help meet the needs of the employer and the employee. With different ways to earn money from home, we’ve worked on providing options for high speed internet and even public Wi-Fi.
Keeping our employment opportunities diverse also helps keep our community thriving. We have everything from agricultural to service to engineering. Paper making, technology, insurance, education, industrial, and more help round out the field. We’ve created opportunities for small businesses to start up easier by working with Co-Ops, creating business incubator spaces, and offering the resources to help in all aspects of a start-up.
We continue to work with existing companies like Delta Dental, Sentry Insurance, Point Brewery, Skyward, Lineage Logistics, and Ki Mobility to help expand, but we’ve also been working with businesses that are new to our city, like Great Northern Distilling, The Opera House, Meier, and more. Good paying jobs, affordable daycare, and flexible schedules are going to be key to our continued economic growth in the city. You’ll see some great things coming in 2023 and beyond.
Budgets are complicated and everyone seems to have different priorities. We’ve worked hard to reduce our costs and provide our services as efficiently as possible. It’s going to get tougher in the coming years, too.
The State of Wisconsin has had levy limits in place since 2006. The law was designed to slow the rise of property taxes and reduce spending. Stevens Point is only allowed to increase it’s spending by the amount of net new construction. If we grow 2%, we can spend 2% more. If we don’t grow, we cannot increase our spending. I’m sure this seemed like a good concept in 2006, but it’s not working any more.
The last 8 years of my administration have all seen above average growth and we even set a record in 2021. Our growth in 2022 was 2.52%. That’s much better than the state average of 1.71%, but still well below the rate of inflation (nearly 9%). Now imagine you’re a city employee. Even if we don’t increase our annual budget at all, we are only allowed to increase wages by that 2.52%. The cost of everything has gone up. So even with a zero increase on non-wage items, we’re losing ground every year. We cut the 2023 operating budget to allow us to give our employees a 3% raise (still well short of inflation). Well still need paper, envelopes, computers, printer toner and everything any company needs to function, but that all went up, so we will have to get by with less in 2023. Every city in Wisconsin has been doing this since 2006. It’s not sustainable.
We’ve made some great strides in reducing our energy usage, streamlining processes, even moving towards paperless in some cases. We’ve added solar panels and biogas generators. We diverted solid waste from landfills with composting to save time and fuel. We’ll keep looking for more ways to save, too, but the big stuff is already being done.
I’m working to help change the parameters of those spending laws. This doesn’t happen locally, but at the state level. Working with legislators to help reform the formula. Meeting with leaders from other municipalities to share our stories with those who can help and providing solutions to those in the state legislature to help us serve our communities better.
We’ve started by asking for bigger return of the taxes we all already pay into the state. Shared Revenue is a phrase that means each city gets back a portion of the state income taxes the we all pay in. Originally, the state only kept a small percentage of that and returned most of it to the cities and villages it came from. Each year, the state has kept more and more. We need that back. The Governor’s budget has a proposed increase, but the legislature still needs to approve it. I intend to keep working on making that happen.
We are exploring the creation of a Transportation Utility. Much like your water bill, the costs of some transportation related expenses would be removed from property taxes and we’d all get a separate bill for the transportation services. This is more equitable because right now churches, municipal buildings, schools, non-profits and others do not pay property taxes, so they’re not helping pay for our roads in the same way you and I are. By spreading the cost over a wider group, the property tax payers pay less. Not a bad solution, but not a great one, either.
Removing Emergency Services from the Levy Limit formula is another option. Counties have had this for years. We shouldn’t have to choose between fire hoses and fixing potholes. By removing emergency services from the levy limits, we won’t have to, but that means more taxes and that is not appealing to anyone.
We’re going to face financial challenges over the next 4 years, just like we will in our personal budgets. We need to make sure we’re exploring all options and that we are making good financial decisions. I treat our city budget as I do my own, after all, its my money, too.
Re-elect Mayor Mike Wiza
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