2022 Municipal Responses

River Hills Trustee Questionnaire

  1. What are the biggest challenges facing the Village and what changes would you attempt to address them?

    Gene Braaksma - Currently, the Village is facing a financial pinch. The current Board has proposed a development on a recently purchased 54-acre plot requiring a change in the comprehensive plan and zoning. Many residents oppose this plan. Alternative plans have been offered but rejected. I would listen to the residents and make every effort to create openness in decision-making and communication with the residents. It is their Village. -

    R. David Fritz, Jr. - The Village of River Hills’ most attractive features will be a challenge to continue to support, as the current structure of State and village finances become an impediment. Specifically, maintaining an independent Police Department and Public Works Department will be a challenge. The State has set guidelines for what portion of our tax base our Village gets to keep. Currently, our ratio is about 23% of every tax dollar we collect. Without short-term and long-term strategies to steadily increase our tax revenue base, the Village could head down the path of shared services. A shared services model would eliminate or greatly diminish, the quality of the many things we hold as valuable, such as our police department and DPW which make up 77% of our Village budget.

    Bottom line is the Village of River Hills needs to find more revenue and raising taxes via a referendum is NOT the solution. The Village is looking to raise its total assessed value through a unique, home development project which will bring an additional $40.5 million of increased land value. I support this development and believe it is critical to the River Hills’ future financial viability.

    Peter Stanford - The Village's Board of Trustees (Board) proposed development of the Eder Farm is the largest issue the Village has faced since the Village's inception. The Board is proposing a 51-unit high density development on the 53-acre Eder Farm. 28 acres have been sold to MMSD under an Il-year license. The purpose of the license is for MMSD to build retention ponds to handle the water run-off from 51 units being built on the other 25acre parcel.

    The residents have been clear in the Village wide comprehensive plan, surveys and Town Hall meetings they oppose the Board's proposed development. Despite clear opposition from the residents, the Board refuses to adopt alternative plans or place its proposed plan up for referendum.

    Fiscally, the Board has not been consistent or exercised responsibility in managing its proposed development. There has been no feasibility study to determine the success or failure of its proposed development or any of its revisions. There is no plan proposed or in place to finance the debt service during the life of the Tax Incremental District (TID), or the municipal bonds sold to support the development. The current anticipated return is 2035, with no plan in place should the development fail. There is no plan in place to pay for the municipal bond or the debt service in the event of the development's failure.

    Christopher NoyesDid not respond to requests to share their views.

  2. How would you specifically try to improve transparency on issues important to the village?

    Gene Braaksma - I would hold more open meetings and survey residents for input and ideas. Many decisions are now made during closed sessions. Closed sessions are overused and tend to make residents suspicious of how decisions are made.

    R. David Fritz, Jr. - Village Trustees have requested, and the administrative staff began posting all important documents including meeting transcripts, development proposals, and additional informational resources so that every Village resident can access timely data. Trustee meetings have been conducting Board meetings via Zoom and attendance has far exceeded in-person meetings giving residents easy access to attend and real-time access to discussions.

    Peter Stanford - I consider transparency a critical issue in the April 5 election. The Eder Farm is public property. The Eder Farm is managed with public funds. Despite requests from its constituents, the Board refuses to place its proposed plan up for referendum. Because the Board will not put its proposed development up for referendum, I was instrumental in drafting and soliciting signatures on Petitions for proposed Ordinances under Wisconsin's District Legislation Statute. I served the Board with proposed Ordinances under the Direct Legislation Statute to prevent the Village from conveying the property or entering into a construction contract greater than $1 million, absent a referendum from the residents.

    Under the Direct Legislation Statute, the Board was to act on the Direct Legislation on or before January 6, 2022. After the statutory time had expired, the Board went into "closed session" to act on the Direct Legislation. After its "closed session," the Board publicly announced it decided to "take no action" on the Direct Legislation. The Board did not and has not disclosed the bases for its decision to "take no action."

    By virtue of the Board's decision, we have been forced to seek redress in the Circuit Court. We are seeking an order from a Circuit Court Judge directing the Board to either pass the proposed Ordinances or place them up for referendum. In effect, the Board's "closed session" decision has forced the residents to incur litigation costs to have the Board action on the same Direct Legislation the residents endorsed.

    If the Board had been transparent, we may have avoided the Circuit Court. If the Board had been transparent, then the Board's constituents would not be in the dark about the decision-making by its elected officials. If the Board had been transparent with its decision-making, and its bases, the village would continue to enjoy a comfortable working relationship between the residents and their elected officials.

    If elected, I would place proposed plans for the Eder Farm up for referendum. If elected, I would solicit and listen to resident input, on any issue.

    Christopher NoyesDid not respond to requests to share their views.

  3. How would you rate the Village’s efforts in sustainability? What can we do better?

    Gene Braaksma - The Village has traditionally been a strong environmental leader. We need to continue that effort. The Village recently adopted an ordinance to outline use of solar. We need to actively encourage solar as one means of reducing our impact on the environment. We also need to look at how to replace the thousands of dead ash trees and start replanting to increase carbon recovery.

    R. David Fritz, Jr. - The Village does a wonderful job protecting and promoting its vast beautiful natural resources. Our Committee on the Environment does an excellent job providing informational pieces to help residents care for our natural resources including the Milwaukee River. Financially, the Village will have challenges supporting its current level of services including an independent Police and Public Works Departments. Village employees are doing all they can to maintain the Village’s economic sustainability though careful expense management and proper preventive maintenance measures.

    Peter Stanford - The Village is currently running a six figure debt in its operating budget. The Board's forecast is the six figure debt will turn into a seven figure debt. As a Village, I know we can do better. I have served as a Planning Commissioner for more than 10 years, and enjoyed working with Boards who exercised fiscal responsibility. As an alternative to the Board's proposed plan, I have proposed the following:

    1. Divide the 53-acre Eder Farm into five acre parcels and develop single family homes, maintaining our current zoning laws and comprehensive plans; and
    2. Put up for referendum a $50 per acre levy on each property owner, which would yield a net $149,500 per annum to the Village.

    Christopher NoyesDid not respond to requests to share their views.

  4. What experience do you have that makes you a good fit for this office?

    Gene Braaksma - I have served on several Boards and in leadership positions in both public and private settings. I have also been a mediator for over 20 years. My leadership style is to listen, develop options and gain the support of stakeholders before moving forward. I will bring that same leadership style to the Village Board.

    R. David Fritz, Jr. - I have served for 15 years on the Village of River Hills Board. I have participated in every budget planning process, brought significant savings in the Village’s health care plan, have participated on the Committee on the Environment working to educate residents on proper property maintenance practices, I have worked to find solutions for the continued viability of the North Shore Library, and have worked closely with the Police Department to advocate for the proper funding to ensure our Officer’s safety and viability. Lastly, I believe River Hills should be a municipality where we do not create an Ordinance for every situation, instead we let our residents make the proper decision within the boundaries we all respect.

    Peter Stanford - I graduated from Washington and Law University, Cum Laude, with a B.S. in Business Administration. I graduated from the St. Louis University School of Law. I was the Senior Editor of the Law Journal. I have been practicing law for over 39 years and have owned and operated my own law firm for over 33 years. Currently, I serve as one of the Village's Planning Commissioners. I also serve on a number of Boards.

    My experience in owning, operating and managing my law firm for more than 33 years, together with serving on a number of Boards, places me in the unique position to exercise fiscal discipline. While serving as a director on a number of Boards, I have had the opportunity to learn how to listen to people and exercise their will. I have learned to exercise the appropriate analysis and discipline to forecast a business's operations in order to continue a healthy business, whether public or private.

    Christopher NoyesDid not respond to requests to share their views.