Franklin officials are seeking help from the state or other cities as they face a Saturday deadline to get $500,000 for the Drexel Avenue interchange.
Franklin Mayor Tom Taylor and members of the city’s Common Council said they want the Interstate 94 interchange built but refuse to spend local taxes on the project, which is east of the city’s border with Oak Creek. The state is requiring local governments to pay half of the project’s $12.9 million budget.
“The only people who are talking about our share,” Taylor said, “are people hoping that it will be our share.”
Oak Creek this week agreed to spend $4.4 million in tax-incremental financing money on the project, and Northwestern Mutual, which has a building near the site, agreed to give $1.6 million. But that leaves a $500,000 gap in the local share.
Franklin Alderman Tim Solomon said the interchange is too important to Franklin’s future to pass up, especially considering the potential benefit of any Northwestern Mutual expansion.
“Northwestern Mutual spent $2 million in taxes last year,” he said. “Spread that over 10 years, that’s $20 million, and they want this interchange. We need to make this happen.”
But Franklin residents at a Wednesday night Common Council meeting opposed spending city money to fill the gap.
“If this city’s got this kind of money to spend,” said Ralph Netzel, who lives on Drexel Avenue, “I would suggest they save some lives and put it toward some emergency tornado or emergency siren system.”
Reggie Newson, director of operations for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation southeast region, said the department will stick to its Saturday deadline for local governments to make a decision. If the local governments come up with the local share of the budget, he said, the department can incorporate the Drexel interchange into the ongoing reconstruction of I-94. If there is no decision by May 1, he said, the project must compete statewide with other highway projects to receive money.
State policy, Newson said, requires local communities to pay for half of a project cost if the need for the construction is generated by local traffic demand.
In an effort to keep negotiations between Franklin and Oak Creek open, Taylor is offering to spend $350,000 on the project if Oak Creek agrees to widen Drexel Avenue from two to four lanes. Franklin’s Common Council on Wednesday voted unanimously to keep the offer on the table and continue negotiating with Oak Creek.
Taylor called on the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to pay for the project itself, or for other local communities to help pay the remaining $500,000.
“If the city of South Milwaukee or others are going to benefit from this,” Taylor said, “there is room for them to contribute.”
Oak Creek Alderman Steve Scaffidi said it is too late for the city to change its plan before Saturday, which is the deadline WisDOT set for local governments to decide. He said that, like Taylor, he refuses to spend city tax money on the project.
“You can see the frustration that we’re feeling,” he said. “We feel like we’re not being helped by the Department of Transportation.”
The TIF money Oak Creek would use is not from Oak Creek’s annual budget. The tax districts let municipalities borrow money for projects and pay off the debt with the increased property taxes generated by the new development.
Oak Creek can use TIF money because the proposed interchange is within its city borders, but Franklin, according to city consultants, does not have that option, Taylor said. He said that may undo his $350,000 proposal because it would also use TIF money.
“I don’t know who’s playing chicken here,” Taylor said, “but if somebody’s really serious about creating 41,000 jobs in Wisconsin, now is the time to step up to the plate.”