Falls candidates talk about TIFs, responsibility and more

March 10, 2014

Menomonee Falls — Three trustees will be elected to the Village Board on April 1, but there will be only two contested races. Joseph Helm is unopposed for Seat No. 3, currently held by Dennis Farrell.

There are no incumbents in the races for Seat No. 1 and Seat No. 2, which may be tests of strength for the Menomonee Falls Taxpayers Association. One year ago, candidates backed by the association unseated longtime incumbents Michael McDonald and Jeff Steliga. The group has said it "was formed to recruit and support conservative candidates for local office."

Seat No. 1

This seat is held by Sharon Ellis, who is retiring.

Katie Kress, 36, is software quality analysis lead at Corvisa Services. She attended the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and has a bachelor's degree in business management from University of Phoenix. She is married.

"We need to attract business to Menomonee Falls without taking unnecessary risk," said Kress, a first-time candidate endorsed by the Taxpayers Association. "I will be the voice of the taxpayers, keeping the village a safe place to live for seniors and growing families."

Kress referred to the controversy over the Radisson Hotel development, where the village made a construction loan to a developer and filed a foreclosure suit after payments were missed, when she said "some decisions that were previously made came with unnecessary risk. We need to make smarter decisions in the future that do not get the village into these predicaments."

Michael McDonald, 63, owns Express Natural Cleaners. He has a bachelor's in political science from UW-Madison. He is married with two adult children.

Until his defeat last year, McDonald had been a trustee for 23 years. He made two unsuccessful runs for state representative in the 1970s.

Over the past two years, McDonald said the Village Board has lost 90 years of experience.

"The board is in a state of flux," he said. "Nobody else running has proven experience and performance." He blamed his 2013 loss on backlash from the hotel project and attacks on the board by Milwaukee talk show hosts.

"I've championed high-quality, low-density development," McDonald said, as well as building the state's third-largest industrial tax base. "That's absolutely essential to the future of the community."

He defended the village's use of tax-incremental financing districts, and declared that "voting 'no' just to keep taxes down is not the answer." He believes that to hold down taxes "you've got to be creative and look at the total picture."

Chris Rolenc, 42, is a project engineer for Serigraph. He has a bachelor's in mechanical engineering from Rose-Hulman Institute, and has done graduate work at Milwaukee School of Engineering. He is married, with two children.

Rolenc has served on the Plan Commission and the Architectural Control Board, and regularly attends board meetings. The first-time candidate said his goal is "keeping the community healthy and alive. I could take my experience and understanding to steer this community."

"Menomonee Falls has some of the hottest development going on, retirement communities going in, three or four subdivisions," he said. "I want to make sure we keep moving forward with rehabilitation of older areas of the community. It's fine and dandy to have glistening new stuff, but it's not healthy for the central portion of your community to fail."

Seat No. 2

This seat is vacant, due to the death of Jim Jeskewitz.

Kevel Anderson, 39, is manager of manufacturing support for Joy Global. He has a bachelor's in mechanical engineering from UW-Milwaukee and an MBA from Cardinal Stritch University. He is married, with three children.

Anderson is a first-time candidate, and said he is an independent candidate running because "I want to make a difference in the community. I don't have any particular ties with any particular group."

"I believe my business background will bring value to the board, and I'll bring a fresh perspective," he said.

Anderson declined to comment about TIF districts. Asked about the hotel, he said that "I've been tracking various developments, but I think I would be remiss to draw conclusions."

Tim Newman, 59, is co-owner of Quality Stamping & Tube Co., and Badger Metal Tech. He attended Waukesha County Technical College, and has taken several business courses through UW-Milwaukee. He is married, with two adult children.

Newman, the brother of Village President Randall Newman, is a first-time candidate, but points to his service on the village's Plan Commission and Community Development Authority.

"It's important to elect people who have been involved and have gained real-life experience," he said. "Some people get involved because they're upset about one issue; they don't have an experienced background from years of being actively involved. It can limit or delay their success, as well as that of the board."

Newman strongly defends "proper use of TIF districts."

"TIFs are very helpful to communities such as ours," Newman said, saying they "allow us to improve areas that would otherwise continue to decline," and to clean up abandoned industrial sites, citing the new Froedert/WAC complex. "When they get rundown, the tax base shrinks as well." He said the village's "constant challenge is keeping taxes low while keeping services high."

Chris Smolik, 52, is a systems and financial analyst for KHS USA. He earned a bachelor's in accounting from UW-Milwaukee. He is married, with two children.

The first-time candidate has Taxpayers Association backing, and criticized "imprudent decisions made with our tax dollars, many in areas where the local government has no expertise. Other decisions seemed to overlook the long-term consequences and risks."

Smolik said the hotel agreement was one such "imprudent decision." He mentioned the proposed Chemworks plant, saying, "I feel strongly that had due diligence been exercised, we wouldn't be in this mess." He also criticized "overuse of TIFs. I don't think we should gamble our residents' hard-earned tax dollars on projected gains that only look good on paper."

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