Beaver Dam City Council Divided On Who Should Approve Downtown Grants

(Beaver Dam) There is disagreement among elected officials in Beaver Dam on who should be responsible for approving a half-million dollars in downtown revitalization grants. Mayor Becky Glewen wants the grant funding to be approved by the new, nine-person Downtown Redevelopment Committee, which is comprised of two elected officials, four appointees and three non-voting members. Glewen says giving the new committee the power to approve the grants would streamline the process and eliminate confusion between committees and the council.

“I’ve expressed my concerns with holding up the process…for a business owner, in trying to be efficient,” Glewen says, “Just like we’ve had conversations about ‘why do we have a separate Admin Committee and Operations Committee only to rehash it on the council floor’ you’re going to spend a lot of time [because] there are a lot of grants.”

Alderwoman Kara Nelson rejects the notion that oversight is time consuming and says approving large sums of money is the responsibility of elected officials. She says the new committee should operate similar to the Plan Commission.

“The [Downtown Redevelopment Committee] would review everything making sure it’s in order, make the recommendation to the council and us, as alderpersons, should take that recommendation seriously,” Nelson says.

Alderman Mike Wissell says the process to obtain a grant is already long enough.

“Generally, it’s difficult [for business owners] to schedule things and then wait for approval,” Wissell says, “it sounds like we’re tacking on at least two more weeks, maybe even a month, to the process.”

Alderman Ken Anderson says all grant applications should come to the council, regardless of the amount.

“If we’re spending taxpayer money, that should be coming to the council and not a committee,” Anderson says, “It should be coming to elected officials that are held accountable to constituents.”

The grant funds come from Tax Increment Finance District #6, a downtown blight elimination TIF with the money available for use only in the downtown. The grants are currently approved by the Community Development Committee, which meets as needed, though not very often.

Grants were initially distributed by the CDC beginning in 2013 under stringent guidelines through what had been called the Downtown Façade Improvement Program. There were very few grants awarded under the stringent guidelines.

In 2016, the council loosened restrictions for the grants that included eliminating the maximum cap for an award while simplifying once-stringent requirements to a couple guidelines on a one-page application form. In 2020, the CDC approved 11 grants.

In March, members of the CDC began to take issue with the lack of guidelines in place – which they had indicated created confusion – and the CDC sought to rewrite the rules. The mayor announced at that meeting that she would be dissolving the CDC.

In April, an initial attempt to merge the CDC with the Landmark Commission was tabled by the city council. It was later learned that the CDC could not be dissolved as it is tied to the Beaver Dam Area Development Corporation by city ordinance, acting as an intermediary between the public-private economic development entity and the city council.

In May, the council moved forward with rebranding the Landmark Commission as the Downtown Redevelopment Committee. A resolution giving the new DRC the authority the approve the downtown grant funding, however, is in limbo. That resolution, as initially proposed, would have given the DRC the final authority to approve funds with grant distribution guidelines established by the city council.

Language was added to that resolution in committee that would have given the city council the final authority in approving grants, but only grants in excess of $5000. That resolution failed to garner support at the May 17th city council meeting. The resolution is now expected to return to the Administrative Committee for further deliberation.