Stoughton residents seek funds for court action to stop TIF for Walmart

Residents of Stoughton have been questioning the city’s plan to subsidize a development including a WalMart SuperCenter since the plan was revealed during the winter of 2013–14. Now they will file suit to stop an even more direct subsidy to WalMart and they need help.

Progressive Dane founding member Buzz Davis is the treasurer of the citizens’ group Stoughton Forward, which is ready to seek an injunction to stop the deal in Dane County Circuit Court this week.

Checks should be made out to Stoughton Forward, c/o Buzz Davis, Treasurer, and sent to 1021 Riverview Dr., Stoughton, WI 53589.

Critics of the TIF for WalMart arrangements at Kettle Park West have consistently said the project is not financially viable. Even WalMart thinks they may be right.  The company now believes the developer, Forward Development Group of Verona, may go under, and wants the city to give WalMart the $5 million for infrastructure improvements at the corner of U.S. 51 and State 138, instead of paying Forward Development and Kettle Park West LLC.

Stoughton Council vote on Tuesday, July 14: Under threat of WalMart’s departure from the development, Stoughton Council will vote on this bait and switch on Tuesday, July 14.

Anyone can register in opposition to Item 8, the resolution to approve the three-party agreement relating to Kettle Park West development. The meeting is in the Council Chambers at the Public Safety Building, 321 S. Fourth St., second floor.

The council has been split 6–6 on almost every vote, but Mayor Donna Olson has been an ardent supporter of these corporate welfare arrangements and a tie-breaking vote. A majority of Stoughton voters oppose Kettle Park West and the TIF for WalMart deal, as shown by a non-binding referendum this spring. The question was placed on the ballot after residents worked during the winter to collect more than the required number of signatures.

The basis for the legal action is Wisconsin law. Davis explains that “significant” changes to any TIF project plan require another public hearing and another round of approvals. “For two years the mayor and developer have been fast tracking this giveaway of citizens’ tax dollars to the developer. Now at the last moment, the mayor agrees to give the $5 million in TIF money to WalMart due to WalMart's threat to kill the project if the city does not comply with its request.”

Davis compared the bait and switch to a marriage ceremony. “On the wedding day the groom’s family informs the bride, at the altar, that she will not be marrying their son Jeff, but instead will marry Bill,” he said. The citizens’ action will ask that work on the Kettle Park Project be halted pending a hearing and judgment. 

WalMart lost previous bid for SuperCenter: Stoughton residents fought off a larger WalMart a decade ago.  Based on the spring referendum, people want to see investment in the downtown instead. Davis remembers: “Ten years ago WalMart wanted to build an even larger SuperCenter in the middle of another cornfield. Stoughton Forward members fought that for four years and WalMart canceled its store. WalMart has a long memory and does not like to lose or be beaten. So we expect a flock of turkey vulture WalMart lawyers to be in court trying to confuse the judge.”

Progressive Dane is proud to support this effort. In recognition of the importance of opposing corporate welfare, and the tenacity of the Stoughton activists in fighting their city’s determination to misuse public money, Progressive Dane’s membership voted unanimously to award an organizing grant to Stoughton Forward in December 2014.