Court rulings force city to remove sex offender residency restrictions

by Emmitt B. Feldner
of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – With recent court rulings muddying the waters, the City Council Tuesday voted to modify its sexual offender residency restriction ordinance.

“As a result of recent court decisions, there is currently statewide uncertainty about the enforceability of sexual offender residency regulations,” City Attorney Crystal Fieber told the council.

Even so, she added, removing the ban on registered sexual offenders living within 1,500 feet of a school, day care center, church, park, playground or recreational trail from the city’s ordinance would still leave some restrictions on sexual offenders’ activities.

“There would still be restrictions on where sexual offenders could go (in the city) and there would also be loitering prohibited zones,” Fieber assured the council.

The removal of the residency restrictions to comply with the recent court rulings passed by a 6-1 vote, with Alderman Jim Faller absent. The no vote came from Alderman Greg Hildebrand, who had originally proposed the residency restrictions adopted by the council.

A request to rezone a commercial building at 410 S. Milwaukee St. from R-2 residential to B-2 general business had a much easier time gaining approval from the council than it did earlier at the Plan Commission.

The council voted unanimously to grant the request from Katy Cain, who plans to convert the building into office space for Avenue Real Estate.

The Plan Commission earlier recommended the rezoning, but only by a one-vote margin. Commission member Jim Flanagan had urged rezoning to B-1 instead of B-2, citing the greater use restrictions in the B-1 classification.

Cain made her case before the council, pointing out that the commercial building directly to the north of the property is currently rated B-2.

She said the real estate office would generate less traffic and noise than the previous building occupants, a beauty parlor and before that a floral shop.

The building was built in 1964 and has only ever been used for businesses, Cain said. “There are no residential spaces in the building,” despite it’s current legal non-conforming residential zoning.

Because of the legal non-conforming status, she added, modifications or changes to the building are not allowed under the city’s zoning ordinances.

The council adopted a resolution calling on the state to fully fund local personal property taxes.

City Administrator Brian Yerges said there is currently a proposal in the state Legislature to eliminate the tax. The tax generates just over $270,000 a year for the city, according to Yerges, which is 5.65 percent of the city’s total property tax revenue.

The proposed law would replace the personal property tax with a state payment to each affected municipality equal to the amount collected in 2017.

“That would be a payment that would never grow,” Yerges noted.

For the city, that would impact its tax incremental finance districts negatively by reducing the amount of revenue used to pay off those districts.

Additionally, it would reduce the city’s borrowing capacity by removing the personal property amounts from the total valuation used to calculate municipal debt limits.

The resolution, which Yerges said a number of other municipalities across the state have adopted, calls for tying increases in the state payment in lieu of the tax to the rate of inflation. It also calls for allowing TIFs to be extended for a longer period of time to adjust for the lost revenue.

“I think Madison sometimes dictates to us not fully understanding the impact,” Mayor Donald Pohlman added.

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