The Bright Side

For years many Lake Geneva residents have wanted the city to purchase the Hillmoor property, but the city council has used multiple excuses for not purchasing the land. For several years the alderpersons said that they could not find the owner, and then, when the owner was found, they said that they did not have the money to purchase it. But when sufficient money was available from TIF #4, the City Council voted it down and instead preferred to put forth the idea of a parking structure. The residents voted that down. Today the owners are known because only the owner/s of a property can request a comprehensive plan change for their property. Twice the owners of the Hillmoor property have requested changes to the city’s comprehensive plan. Both times the requests were approved by the Plan Commission, but because of an overwhelming public objection that filled city hall, several alderpersons listened and voted to deny the requests. So, the Hillmoor Property still remains intact, and it is time for the city to listen to the residents. Had the city council listen to the residents when TIF funds were available, and used TIF funds, then the actual cost to the city to purchase Hillmoor would have been only 25% of the current $3.5 million ($875,000), but they didn’t.


What are some ways they can they now purchase and pay for Hillmoor?

1.)  Under Wisconsin’s “Public Purposes” statute the city can purchase Hillmoor for its fair market value of approximately $3.5 million, even if the owner does not want to sell it.

2.)  The city could borrow the $3.5 million, and add a small temporary levy on the city’s portion of property taxes (estimated $50 increase per resident) or refinance it with the current debt and have little or no increase, which has been the city’s method of borrowing money about every five years. This does not increase the tax levy, but maintains it as a rolling tax levy for an additional five to ten years.

3.)  Pass a charter ordinance* that requires the city to set two percent of its revenue in a separate account, which can only be used for “community preservation,” and requires an approved citizen referendum for the amount to be withdrawn and its specified use. Note: Donations could also be made to this fund, but their use would also require the same approved referendum vote. This assures that the city council cannot use that money without a citizen approved referendum, and assures money for future “community preservation”.


*Note: It would have to be a “charter ordinance,” because to change a “charter ordinance” there has to be a resident approved referendum; whereas, if it was just a standard ordinance then the next city council could repeal the ordinance (as they have already done in 2005 with the lake front and parking funds) and use the money any way they want.
Note: The charter ordinances describe the city government and how it is to function, and setting aside 2% of the city’s revenues for “community preservation” could be included as part of the treasurer’s responsibilities. The definition of “community preservation” as it pertains to the article would also have to be included.

Terry O’Neill

Cartoon by Terry O'Neill


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