By Keene Winters
Who is paying for the construction on Thomas Street in Wausau? Does anyone know?
This seems to be the mystery of the decade. After all, we made it all the way through Phase I without understanding the answer. At a recent city meeting regarding the second phase of the project, questions were asked about the costs of the new phase. Out popped the same old, off-putting answer.
“Don’t worry. It is being paid for by TID 6 and will not impact the General fund.”
First of all, it has been my experience that when city officials say not to worry, it is probably prudent to proceed with both caution and questions.
More to the point, let me suggest that the answer need not be so vague. Tax Incremental Financing District 6 (TID 6) is not an abstract entity. Rather, it is a specific and well-defined geography. Property owners inside the boundaries of the district pay taxes toward the retirement of TID 6 debt, and people living outside the district do not. Who is paying for Thomas Street is an answerable question.
So, let me toss out a little year-end challenge to the newspapers, radio stations and television stations of Wausau: Get us the answer, please. File an open records request for the names of all of the businesses and residential property owners in TID 6 and publish it. Let the citizens of Wausau know who is paying for Thomas Street before Phase II of the reconstruction gets any farther along.
Granted, the list is probably too large for a TV or radio segment — or even a printed medium. But, most news outlets have an online presence, and there is plenty of space to do it there.
Perhaps it could be set up as a queriable database. Let people type in their names and find out if they live in TID 6. I bet that would be a good way to generate web traffic.
Of course, journalists are not the only people obligated to carry water for the public on this issue. Several alderpersons represent constituents who live within the boundaries of TID 6. It would be perfectly appropriate for any one of them to ask that the information be compiled and made available to the public on the city website. Who owns property in TID 6 is not a state secret.
What are the chances that we will ever see the answer? I would guess, not good. First, we will have to find someone with the character to persist in the face of a string of indignant and deleterious responses from city officials. Next, that person will need the courage to accept that grudges will be held and retaliation will be imposed at future opportunities. All things considered it is hard to imagine that we will find anyone to take up this cross.
Who is paying for Thomas Street? There is a list in City Hall of taxpayers who are footing the bill. But, the public will probably never see it.
Editor’s note: Wausau Pilot & Review has submitted such an open records request and will publish the records when they are received.
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