My name is Paul Treffert, and I am the Executive Director of Sheboygan Senior Community. Thank you for allowing me to address the City Council this evening. It is safe to say that when I was interviewing for the ED position at Sheboygan Senior Community the end of 2015, I did not envision standing here today discussing a unique set of circumstances, in which we sincerely hope no one else in Sheboygan, or anywhere else, ever has to live through.
One of tonight’s agenda items is the request that Sheboygan Senior Community has made regarding the Tax Incremental Financing allocation that was used to assist in the development of Landmark Square Condominiums. We requested that the TIF be extended by an additional year because the project was delayed by the infamous fire that burnt the structure to the ground six weeks before it was due to open.
In the 24 months since I joined Sheboygan Senior Community, I have become very attached to the residents, employees, family members, Board member, donors, and volunteers. While I have been blessed to work with countless dedicated senior care professionals over my career, I can honestly say that I have never been so proud of the care and services and overall living environment that our employees create every day. I have also become very involved in the City of Sheboygan, especially at the Weill Center, where I recently joined the Board of Directors. I have been struck by the City’s remarkable number of successful companies, philanthropy, and sense of community. So even though I don’t love the drive up 43 everyday, right now I can’t imagine working anywhere else.
Besides the outstanding care and services, which I do believe is among the best in the State, I am also drawn to two unique, related features about SSC. The first is that we are the only faith-based, not-for profit, locally owned senior care provider in City or Town of Sheboygan. We were started by members of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church over 50 years ago, and since then we have cared for thousands of Sheboygan Seniors- and by extension, their families- over the years. I am often asked about the ownership model of SSC. As one lady put it “who gets the money?” I sometimes have a difficult time convincing people that there are no investors, no shareholders, we are not an LLC. All of our revenue goes to meeting our payroll, paying the bank for our beautiful facility now located on County Rd Y, and preparing for our future.
But I am also proud that despite our small size and limited resources, SSC has long been a trend-setter and trailblazer in senior care services. In the late 80’s,what was then the Sheboygan Retirement Home added assisted living services, well ahead of what later became a nation-wide trend. Most recently, the
leadership team of SSC recognized that our old building on 6th Street had outlived its useful life and we began planning a state of the industry care center that is easily one of the best in the Midwest.
And of course, there is the development of Landmark Square Condominiums, a 55+ senior housing project that built 70 condos right in downtown Sheboygan, which is why we are here today.
For as surreal as the set of circumstances leading up to all of this are, the facts are pretty straight forward:
- As part of the development of Landmark Square Condos, the City agreed to a 10 year, $2.5 Million dollar TIF arrangement.
- The fire on March 19, 2007 left the building a total loss. It took a full year to rebuild.
- Non-elected officials in City Hall were aware that the TIF was still set to expire on the original date. We have the memo that confirms this awareness.
- The final year’s payment is estimated to be over $186k, or $15k per month.
- Had anyone from the City even bothered to pick up the phone or send an email, we would have requested that the TIF be extended, OR, and this is important, we could have simply filed a claim for lost business income from the insurance company that handled and paid all of our claims related to the fire. One phone call. One email. Would not have cost anyone anything.
- While the contract language is clearly not in our favor, the spirit and intent was clear. We were supposed to get that money.
- Our request to extend the TIF was rejected by the Finance Committee on January 23 without so much as a follow-up question from anyone on the committee.
- I did come up with an alternate way for the City to provide some relief that would have granted us less than 1/3 of the money over 10 years. That, too, was dismissed without so much as an inquiry from the non-elected officials making the decision.
To say that this entire situation is has been disappointing, time-consuming, and frustrating would be a marked understatement. But I do think it is important to give credit where is due, so I want to mention that Mayor Vandersteen has been very supportive and helpful through this process, so thank you, Mr. Mayor. I have been impressed with how engaged and supportive you have been.
With that said, the Mayor’s office hasn’t been able to do anything except lend a sympathetic ear. The people in a position to actually help have not even done that much. When people talk about a complete lack of faith in government, it is not just the buffoons in Washington, who can’t even deliver on the basics like agreeing on when ‘is’ a good time to discuss how prevent mass murder in schools. But it is also examples like these. The citizens of Sheboygan were not served well by their local officials in this instance. That much is clear.
Speaking of the citizens of Sheboygan, if I lived here you can bet I would want an answer to this question: Where did the money go? When the TIF agreement was written, it was clear that SSC was to receive 10 years, equaling $2.5 Million. Since this whole thing came up in September, I have been told several times ‘off the record’ with people who would know that the money is already spent, which is one of the reasons that no one is lifting a finger to do the right thing. It seems to me that for the last several years the people who look at the tax rolls and project city income must have been banking on this money and knew we would be severely impacted and did not say a word. I am not sure exactly who those people are, but they do. And if they ask themselves if they did the right thing for the residents of Landmark Square and the SSC employees and family members who live in the city, the answer is clear.
All this being said, while it is a lot of money, it is not the end of the world for Sheboygan Senior Community. We have explored legal remedies and other options to compel the City to right this wrong that is over a decade old now, but we have opted instead to focus on the future. We are well into a strategic planning process that will help define the vision for our 40 acre campus, and continue to get overwhelmingly positive feedback from our residents and their families.
But $15k/month hit would be big for any organization, not to mention a 91 bed senior care campus. So we will be calling on the generous support of the Sheboygan community to help close the gap caused by the city’s callousness, but also to support our future growth and development. When all is said and done, SSC is ultimately your community asset; my leadership team and I are merely the caretakers.
On that note, let me end by saying that for all of our successes over the years, we have not done a great job of tapping into the well of philanthropic support in this generous community. Our Board of Directors has directed me and my leadership team to go out and do a better job of asking for our fair share. So we look forward to partnering with other visionary organizations to continue caring for Sheboygan seniors for years to come. Stay tuned. We are going places.
Thank you for your time and attention.
Paul A. Treffert, NHA, MBA
Sheboygan Senior Community
3505 Cty Rd Y
Sheboygan, WI 53083