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City talks money for parking ramp
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MONROE - Whatever the city decides to do about replacing the downtown parking ramp could rest heavily on what it can afford to spend.

The City of Monroe Common Council took its first step on the issue Monday by requesting information on financing options.

The council voted to eliminate the option of building a surface parking lot, by a narrow margin of 5 to 4. The remaining options on the table are a multi-level parking ramp and a public-private development.

Those two remaining options would most likely require borrowing dollars into the millions, even if the city takes a creative route with construction proposals.

Incurring debt would not affect the state-imposed levy limit on the municipal operating budget, which will be 0 percent for the 2015 budget. It does, however, fall upon property owners as an additional amount of taxes.

None of the aldermen said he or she was "willing to increase taxes to pay for this," when Alderman Michael Boyce asked the question.

Reid Stangel came close to accepting the additional tax, "if it's the only way it's going to get done," he said. But he added a caveat, saying he wanted "to know if there's enough people to support it."

City Administrator Phil Rath and Public Works Director Colin Simpson offered several creative options for financing the rebuild project, including hiring a developer to build-to-suit; pursuing a design-build-own-operate contract; and selling the facility outright to a private developer.

A private component in the project would need extra time to map out and implement, perhaps even past 2016. But it would also add property value to the Tax Increment District.

The downtown TID is not able to meet its current debt obligations, according to Rath. Boyce noted that resetting the downtown TID value, if possible, could create some flexibility in the district's struggling fund balance.

Brooke Bauman, president of the Common Council, said she had a "huge concern" about financing the project "so more (city) projects are not being put off."

Noting Monroe was "one of the highest taxed communities in Wisconsin," Bauman said she wanted to "make decisions that are fiscally responsible to the citizens."

Rath was directed to contact Ehlers, the city's financial advisors, about drawing up finance options for review at the next parking ramp meeting. If that work involves an added cost to the city, Rath will present it to the Finance and Taxation Committee for approval.

The next parking ramp meeting of the Common Council Committee of the Whole is expected to be May 27.