Taxpayer anger over the village’s nearly $18 million loan to owners of the Radisson hotel is growing, with a newly formed Menomonee Falls Taxpayers Association deeming the Village Board’s actions on the hotel a “colossal blunder” and launching a petition drive to prevent similar projects in the future.
The association, which formed only Tuesday, released a statement Wednesday announcing that it was starting a petition drive to initiate a binding referendum that would require the Village Board to submit any capital expenditures of $1 million or more to a binding referendum.
"As most of us are aware, as Menomonee Falls residents we are now owners of a hotel," the statement said. "No more telling example could be conceived as to why municipalities and government entities should never be involved in financing any private development projects or chase companies with taxpayer incentives."
The association said it needs 2,700 signatures to force the matter to binding referendum.
The association's statement urges concerned residents to attend Monday's Village Board meeting and promises to have additional information about the group available at that time. The board meets at 6:30 p.m. at , W156 N8480 Pilgrim Rd.
“From a conservative point of view, the government just had no business making a loan of $18 million to a group of people who wanted to run a hotel,” said Bill Savage, treasurer of the association. "If the hotel was a viable option, they would have found private investors and private banks and entities that would give them the money and make the loan to them.”
Savage said that people interested in joining the taxpayers association can call him at (414) 218-0959.
Organizing began informally
Savage said the effort on the petition drive started organically in the past week, with concerned citizens who used Scott Walker email lists “to get people out there” to Monday's meeting. People weren't using official campaign lists, but rather “they were concerned people who have put together lists over the past few years.”
The fledgling taxpayers association then jumped on board the effort, putting out the statement and further publicizing the issue, which sparked a segment Wednesday by WISN Radio talk show host Mark Belling, who was harshly critical of the village’s decision to loan money to the hotel.
“Please come to the meeting and help show how engaged and enraged the community is with the Village Board and their cavalier use of our tax dollars,” the group's statement said.
The action also came after revelations this week by a local newspaper that discovered through an open records request and review of loan documents that loan money was now being used to finance payroll for the troubled facility at N88 W14750 Main Street.
Farrell joins group, but is mum on petition
One Village Board member, Dennis Farrell, told Patch on Wednesday that he had joined the taxpayers group. However, he said he wanted to keep an open mind and learn more about the petition question before commenting on it. And he defended the village’s decision to lend money to the troubled hotel’s owners.
“This was an eyesore. Something had to be done to eliminate that,” he said. “At the time, (the loan) seemed to be the only recourse.”
He called the taxpayers group a “fine organization.”
Farrell said he was hesitant to comment further on the project “because it’s in litigation.”
Other board members were not at home for comment Wednesday.
Battling it out in court
The village confirmed in mid-June that it has in Waukesha County Circuit Court involving the village’s mortgage on the Radisson. The village holds the mortgage because it’s the primary lender on the property.
The village $14.4 million in principal that it advanced, as well as interest and other costs. In the suit, the village is seeking property and collateral from five members of the ownership group of the hotel.
The hotel, banquet facilities and a restaurant, remain open.
Things have gotten progressively worse, with contractors saying they weren’t paid, the Waukesha County District Attorney getting involved on the contractors’ payments, and now the report that some of the money is going to payments for payroll.
The development agreement between the village and owners dates to 2010, when the village agreed to provide the nearly $18 million loan to jumpstart the hotel’s construction.
One of the developers quickly filed for bankruptcy. The village has already appointed a receiver to monitor day-to-day operations of the facility.
The newly organized taxpayers' association has started a blog and has a Twitter account. The blog describes the organization as “a group of citizens who want to make sure their hard-earned tax dollars are used efficiently and effectively. We are not affiliated with any past or present PAC or organization. We want to elect conservative leaders to office to represent us.”
However, the organization has been Tweeting in past races support of Republicans like state Rep. Don Pridemore and Gov. Scott Walker. Its Twitter site has 32 followers. It also has a new Facebook page.
Jefferson Davis, the controversial former village president, also sent an email Wednesday to multiple media organizations urging them to cover the Radisson story and excoriating the board.
“Supposedly a group of citizens are organizing to appear at the Village Board Meeting on July 2 in support of the contractors who have been stiffed by the village and to ask questions about the end game for the taxpayers to see how much their tax bills are going to go up to cover the some $18 million taxpayer funded loan that the hotel owners have not made any payments on for two years,” Davis wrote.