What’s going to happen with Brokaw?
This week, the long-awaited report on the situation with the Village of Brokaw was released. Marathon County hired consultants from Schenck SC, a state-wide CPA firm and Phillips Borowski SC, a law firm that serves many Wisconsin local governments. With less than 300 residents, Brokaw ran into problems when Wausau Papers closed a large mill in the village, adversely impacting on the tax base while reducing the volumes for its water utility by 95 percent. The Village now has a total property tax rate of $44 per thousand dollars of assessed valuation; (the City of Wausau’s is just under $25, including all components), uncompetitive water rates and few prospects for growth under the present conditions. Worse yet, the money coming from sky-high property tax and water rates still falls far short of what is required to service the village’s debt and supply even modest municipal services to residents. Brokaw, as things stand, is unsustainable.
You can read the report here:
“The report includes two possible options for the Village of Brokaw to pursue to remedy its current financial issues. The first option would be to propose a sale and transfer of the water utility to the City of Wausau, along with an agreement to eventually consolidate with the City in the future, when borders become contiguous. Because consolidation with Wausau will require annexation of property now contained with townships, it is recommended that the Towns be a party to the agreement to provide for an orderly and systematic process. The second option would be to dissolve as a Village and transfer all assets and liabilities to the adjacent Towns of Texas and Maine.”
The county hired the consultants to provide the report so that there would be an objective third party to provide the facts to the parties involved. While we had a good idea of what options were likely to be laid out, it was not because the county had any particular agenda beyond recognizing that there is a problem and that at some point, it needs to be solved. That is the extent of the county’s agenda with this.
Looking ahead, the consultants suggested a cooperative planning process involving Brokaw, the Town of Maine, the Town of Texas and the City of Wausau to explore possible solutions. The county may end up being involved as a facilitator and there may be a role for the state, as well. It is unreasonable to expect Wausau or Marathon County taxpayers to bail out the village or the townships without offsetting economic benefits. That said, it is possible that benefits could be realized in light of the infrastructure and development potential that exists. There is also the matter of a Tax Increment District and whether that public financing scheme can continue under a change of jurisdiction between Brokaw and either the City of Wausau or the townships involved. It is possible that an exception to state law could be created to deal with this problem. What seems certain is that the problem will not solve itself and that any growth strategy will depend on creating a more favorable environment for development than what exists under the tax and water rates currently in place.