Leaders from several southern suburbs have a generally upbeat view for their communities as they enter 2013. NOW Newspapers recently asked Franklin Mayor Tom Taylor, Hales Corners Village President Robert Ruesch and Oak Creek Mayor Steve Scaffidi to discuss the three top issues and/or projects in their municipalities for the coming year.
Greendale Village Manager Todd Michaels declined to take part.
In both Franklin and Oak Creek, mayors expect this will be a year of progress on ongoing developments, and seem enthusiastic. As Scaffidi reviewed Oak Creek's progress, he remarked that "it's exciting to be a mayor at this time."
Ruesch noted that Hales Corners has a different set of concerns because, "we're locked in. We're pretty much built out, we don't have much room for expansion." But he also points to progress to be made on several longstanding issues.
Taylor listed ongoing progress at the Rock Sports Complex on the city's northern edge as the biggest project in 2013 in Franklin. The redevelopment of the former Crystal Ridge ski hill is a joint venture involving the city, Milwaukee County and owner Mike Zimmermann. Rock will include football fields, mountain bike trails and restaurants.
The mayor described the Crystal Ridge site as an eyesore and said he is excited about the new development.
"It's going to move from an old landfill to something really spectacular," Taylor said. "You wouldn't believe what's going on there."
Perhaps the highlight will be eight baseball fields with synthetic playing surfaces. Some of the fields will be designed to resemble such Major League facilities as Miller Park and Boston's Fenway Park.
"They're going to be places teams are going to want to have championship games," Taylor predicted.
For the second major project, "we've just finalized a deal on expansion of Wheaton Franciscan Hospital on 27th Street," the mayor reported. "We're very happy."
Wheaton Franciscan officials plan a flagship facility in southeastern Franklin. A building for physician offices is under construction, and the mayor said there is room for three more buildings on the 50-acre site.
The mayor expects the six-mile interceptor sewer extending westward from 60th Street and Ryan Road to be completed this year, "and it should be well under the projected cost of $43 million. That will open the southwest quadrant of the city for development."
Also in southwest Franklin, Taylor said, "We're still working with Meijer." The Michigan-based retailer is negotiating necessary permits with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, but the mayor voiced confidence the store slated for the intersection of Loomis and St. Martins roads "could be a sparkplug for redevelopment of that entire area."
Ruesch said his biggest concern is "continuing to provide excellent services in the face of decreasing revenues." How much of a challenge he faces will become clearer later this year when the new state budget is adopted, amid some talk of possible reductions to state shared revenues for municipalities.
The second concern is unique to Hales Corners.
"We are the only paid-on-call fire department in Milwaukee County," Ruesch pointed out. "We're losing personnel to full-time departments all over Wisconsin. It's tough to get people to join, because we are an aging community. We may have to sort this out in 2013," and perhaps consider operating on a "paid on premises" basis.
The president added that there has been discussion of fire service consolidation in the area for years, but "that doesn't necessarily bring efficiency or savings. We haven't seen the savings so far; the board doesn't feel that's the direction we want to go right now."
Ruesch also said he would follow advice on this issue from village administrator Mike Weber, the Police and Fire Commission, and the fire chief.
The other major issue is the future of Highway 100 through the village, and the commercial corridor along the highway. While Ruesch said reconstruction of the road is now targeted for 2020-21, he said the village continues to work with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, and that property purchases are beginning.
Ruesch is concerned because the village wants to boost the commercial share of Hales Corners' tax base from 35 to 50 percent.
"We've got an aging commercial corridor, we need a shot in the arm."
In that regard, Ruesch praised Holz Chevrolet, Associated Bank and McDonald's for improving their locations, and said The Bosch restaurant/bar is finalizing plans to move west to the former Ritzmann Appliances property on Janesville Road.
Scaffidi said initial site preparations and plans for the Drexel Town Square development on the site of the former AC Delco plant in Oak Creek are coming this year.
"You'll hear some news in January or early February on who may or may not be deciding to come in," he said, regarding development on the property. "I'm excited about the potential. I think some pretty big players in southeastern Wisconsin are going to be involved."
A new City Hall and library are part of the project.
"The public will know where the buildings will be and what they'll look like," the mayor said. "You'll see streets and sidewalks, and you'll probably see construction before the end of the year."
The mayor's second forecast is that "we're going to continue looking at streamlining our operations," including implementation of the city's decision late last year to privatize garbage collection. That move will allow the city's Streets Department to gradually reduce its truck fleet, as "we'll keep the number we need to safely plow our streets."
"We're trying to put ourselves in the best position possible, regardless of what the state does" regarding shared revenues, Scaffidi said. "We need to reduce costs and increase revenues."
Finally, Scaffidi said Oak Creek is "going to aggressively go after new business. We're talking everything: commercial, industry, warehousing, offices."
The mayor said the city has commitments from two new businesses to move into Oak Creek, with announcements coming in January or early February. He said one is relocating from outside Wisconsin, the other is from Milwaukee.
"We have a strong council and a great staff, and look forward to a great 2013," Scaffidi said.
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