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Dane County deconstructs BUILD program

Paul Snyder
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A Dane County committee that promotes urban development will take a hiatus as the county readjusts its budgets to align with a decrease in state aid.

“It’s upsetting to see it suspended,” said Dennis O’Loughlin, Dane County board member and chairman of the targeted Better Urban Infill Development Committee. “It’s a terrific driver for communities.”

The BUILD program for 10 years helped Dane County communities spark economic revitalization in emptying areas of cities. Projects in Madison, Sun Prairie, Stoughton, Verona and Monona benefitted from BUILD grants.

“Like many often worthwhile things, it’s getting cut back because of the (budget) situation,” said Pamela Andros, a county senior planner and coordinator of the BUILD program. “But this is all good economic development stuff. This is the time (Dane County) needs it more than ever.”

The program usually received about $100,000 per year to award as grants, Andros said. But last year the county budgeted just $37,000 for the program.

With county revenue dropping as the state makes cuts to fill its $6.6 billion budget hole, both the county’s operating and capital budgets are getting hit, said Topf Wells, chief of staff for Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk.

“It’s not a happy choice, but we think (BUILD) is a manageable loss,” Wells said. “There aren’t easy things to cut.”

The problem with derailing help for urban infill? Developments get pushed out into fringe areas, said Gary Becker, a redevelopment consultant in the Madison office of Vierbicher Associates Inc. Vierbicher consulted on several projects that received BUILD grants, including the revitalization of downtown Stoughton.

“The planning out of BUILD grants leads to projects happening because it covers the initial phases to determine feasibility and how to move forward,” he said. “A lot of the area it targets are underperforming in jobs and tax base. If we cut BUILD, it’s just hard to develop there.”

Committee froze $25 million of the $50 million Dane County had approved in borrowing for this year.Beyond cutting programs from the county’s operating budget, the Dane County Board of Supervisors on Friday announced a list of projects that would likely be delayed as the county’s Personnel & Finance

Wells said the freeze on some projects could be repealed, but most of the money is likely to remain frozen.

The suspension of projects and programs (PDF) is indefinite until the county gets a better sense of its revenue stream for the rest of the year, Wells said, but it does not mean they are lost.

“In the case of BUILD, there is obviously still interest in the program,” he said. “It’s incredibly worthwhile.”

O’Loughlin said he understands the tough choice the county had to make with the program, but he said he is less optimistic BUILD will return.

“I’d like to see the county’s (revenue) figures for the second quarter,” he said. “I don’t know what they’ll be, but my wild guess is they’re going to be disastrous. I don’t know how long it’s going to take to get back to normal.”

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