TIF Battle Has Raised Ire From Oshkosh Council, Community
The presence of the Experimental Aircraft Association's
headquarters in Oshkosh, WI is somewhat analogous to a busy general
aviation airport in a small town. It brings in lots of money to the
local economy... but there will always be neighbors who
If you've ever picked up a copy of the Oshkosh Northwestern
while attending AirVenture, you know some locals think they should
get free admission to the event, and rail against attempts to close
down parking in off-airport areas with a view of the air show.
Those emotions have been brought to a head by a recent EAA
master plan which proposed a tax-increment finance district to get
city seed money for a $17 million-dollar expansion of EAA's
facilities at Wittman Regional Airport,
as ANN reported earlier this year.
The Green Bay Press-Gazette reports a TIF district normally
freezes the tax base in the designated area for a specified period
of years, so that any tax revenues brought in by new construction
is applied to the cost of public works within the district. But
EAA's plan was structured differently -- under its proposed TIF,
the organization would borrow $1.9 million to make improvements,
and tax revenues would have gone to EAA.
That plan sparked hot debate almost immediately.
EAA President Tom Poberezny says some members of the Oshkosh
City Council made up their minds before they even saw the proposal.
"We pulled back our proposal because there were people who stated
publicly, before it even went to the city council, that they were
against it," he said. "People have already prejudged what they are
going to do."
Many opponents want to see city funds channeled instead to
improving facilities downtown... the better to draw other events to
the area, such as Country USA, the Great Outdoors Festival and
Lifest. "There is a real debate," Poberezny said. "Some support
putting money into the downtown center and others see it as putting
good money after bad. We see it as two separate issues."
City councilman Tony Palmeri further inflamed the debate by
publishing the salaries of top EAA executives on his blog,
presenting the numbers as evidence that EAA is wealthy enough to
pay for its own improvements at Wittman. Ten EAA execs are paid
six-figure salaries... including Tom Poberezny at over
"Our salaries have been a public record for a long time, and the
salaries are set by a compensation committee made up of people from
all walks of life," Poberezny responded. "If we weren't financially
healthy I wouldn't be doing my job and this is the first time we
have addressed the community in terms of support."
EAA says improvements will happen with or without city help, and
that it's just a matter of how much, how soon. In the meantime,
Oshkosh is finding new ways to milk its cash cow.
For the first time this year, the city will bill EAA for
wastewater treatment entering its system from AirVenture, and
Winnebago County wants to bill for any special services provided by
EAA estimates its visitors leave $80 million in Wisconsin each