It looks increasingly likely that the city hall/library location issue—if it's not decided Tuesday—will at least be decided before the April 3 general election.
But it's one of the most-mentioned topics when Oak Creek mayoral candidates Steve Scaffidi, Tom Michalski and Mark Verhalen talk about their campaigns.
And the three candidates offer three contrasting views of the issue:
Michalski supports moving the library and city hall to the former Delphi property, 7929 S. Howell Ave.
Verhalen opposes moving the buildings.
Scaffidi falls somewhere in the middle.
Let's take a deeper look at what the candidates have said about the issue in interviews with Oak Creek Patch and in public meetings.
Michalski believes the city has proven that constructing the library and city hall at Delphi is the most fiscally-prudent solution and would help make the Delphi redevelopment project successful.
"The rationale that I have for moving both facilities to the Delphi site is, first off, it's cost effective ... I want to get the biggest bang for my buck and I see that over on the Delphi site," he told the audience at a forum co-sponsored by Oak Creek Patch.
"If we're able to make the land swap with the school district, that's going to open up 50 more acres over on Oakwood and Howell that come back onto the tax rolls. The more property we have on the tax rolls, the easier it is to maintain the services we have in the city of Oak Creek and at levels that we like, as opposed to having to cut services without additional funding. The state has said there's no way you're going to increase your taxes without development, and so I think looking forward we need some development and the Delphi site will bring in some premium development with the library and the city hall located there."
In an interview Tuesday, Michalski said he's open to one building containing both the city hall and library, two separate buildings or a partnership that creates a building with a mix of public and private entities.
Whatever the case may be, Michalski feels enough discussion has been had on the issue and the Common Council needs to vote.
"We need to make a decision either way. I ran for alderman in 2006 and this was an issue at that time," he said at the forum. "I made a decision to move to Oak Creek in three weeks ... I think we need to make a decision now. We need a new library."
Verhalen, who sits on the Oak Creek-Franklin School Board, strongly opposes the plan favored by Michalski and other city officials.
For one, Verhalen said city hall can wait. "The city hall issue ... is it a No. 1 necessity of the city? No, I don't think it is. If it were, the city hall would have imploded on itself five years ago. Has it affected the services or the way things are run here? No, it hasn't."
Verhalen said the library should be kept where it is. Construction could start sooner there than at Delphi, which still needs an approved site plan, infrastructure and asphalt removed, Verhalen said.
Verhalen also said a referendum, even if it’s only advisory, should be held to find out how much the community is willing to spend on a new library.
Speaking about the We Energies-related money that is paying for the project, Verhalen said, "Oak Creek's pretty blessed because not everybody has the option of dipping into a funding source every year. For me, in order to keep the city moving forward long term, I think some of that money has to be devoted to economic development and bringing in more businesses to town, focusing on getting more jobs. We've lost a pretty good share of the central job base with Delphi leaving."
Verhalen said he also feels that discussions have taken too long, though he criticized the city for moving forward without enough input from the school district, which would take the Civic Center site (at Howell Avenue and Puetz Road) in the proposed land swap.
"The city hall issue and the library issue have been an issue for three election cycles. We're no further ahead now then when we started. In fact, we're further behind, because at one point they seemed to be rounding the corner to do something with the city hall site and then they went totally off in another direction with Delphi. It's time to get something done instead of messing around."
Scaffidi, the alderman for the city's 3rd District, said he sees the argument for moving the library to Delphi but has not been convinced that city hall needs to relocate as well.
Scaffidi said the library is more pressing than city hall and likes the idea of a public-private partnership. In addition, only working on the library project would space out the construction and lessen the economic impact, he said.
"By doing it one at a time, we can soften the blow for the next few years, because we're only building one building," he said. "To throw all our eggs in a move-both-buildings-$25-million basket is risky from a resident's and taxpayer's perspective. It doesn't mean it wouldn't work, just don't express it in absolute terms like it's guaranteed. Nothing is guaranteed."
Scaffidi doesn't agree with how the issue has been framed—that having civic components means a unique development, but keeping them away from Delphi results in a bland site filled with big box stores.
"I'm not buying that argument," he said. "Not going to happen. The council's not—I'm not signing off on something that's crap just because we didn't put city hall there. Why would I? Isn't the idea that we're a on the project so we can have some say?"
And Scaffidi rejected the notion the council has spent too much time talking and too little time acting. The council moved aggressively to clear the Delphi site and lakefront properties and made progress in several other areas in the city, he said. "No one's delaying. We're asking questions, and sometimes people don't like it when you ask questions. That's our job."
He added that he agrees with those who have called for the council to wait until after the April elections to decide.
"I think that should be the case, but I think I've lost the argument," he said. "Even though the mayor doesn't vote, the mayor is the most influential and highest-ranking city official. Giving that job to an appointee, and we're letting that person drive the discussion, that's not very good public policy."