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ASHWAUBENON – State Rep. David Steffen's proposed plan to dismantle the Green Bay/Brown County Professional Football Stadium District got an unwelcome reception Tuesday from the Ashwaubenon Village Board.
The Republican from Howard would end the board, which oversees the Green Bay Packers' lease at Lambeau Field, and return to property taxpayers about $81 million set aside for stadium maintenance through 2031.
Steffen, during a presentation of his proposal to the village board, said responsibilities would be shifted to the city of Green Bay, but did not say, as he did when he unveiled the proposal on Nov. 1, that the city likely would have to borrow money to meet maintenance obligations included in the lease and the legislation that created the district.
Under the proposal, which Steffen said is only a draft, money set aside for Lambeau Field maintenance would be distributed to Brown County property owners in $600 checks. He also would give $7 million to other government and private entities, and $19 million to the city of Green Bay, which also would get proceeds from a 10% stadium ticket tax.
In Steffen's interpretation, the stadium board has outlived its legislative purpose, which he said included overseeing the construction costs related to Lambeau Field, ensuring the bonds were properly paid and overseeing the sales tax through its duration.
The sales tax was retired in 2015.
"I believe they are misinterpreting the law," Steffen said of the district continuing beyond that date. "They should hang their mission accomplished banner and be done."
Steffen's proposal would give the maintenance money to property owners in Brown County, although it was paid for by all taxpayers through a half-cent sales tax. Returning money to property owners exclusively would leave out everyone else who paid the tax.
"I have not heard anyone in favor of this effort," said village trustee Steve Kubacki. "I think this would be premature to dissolve the stadium district at this particular point in time. I think this was a plan that was put together without input from a lot of other entities."
Steffen has said he developed the draft without consulting anyone.
Leaving Green Bay on the hook for unfunded maintenance costs would be unfair, said Patrick Webb, executive director of the stadium district.
The Packers' lease with the city and stadium district requires the team be reimbursed for operations and maintenance costs determined by a formula. The reimbursement increases 2% a year, and for 2019, the last full year when the stadium was fully used, the payment was $13.2 million. The ticket tax provides about $7.8 million per year. The city would be responsible for making up the difference.
"In my mind, what you would be doing is taxing the citizens of Green Bay to give refunds to Ashwaubenon, De Pere and Howard. I don't know how you solve something like that," Webb said.
In any case, Webb believes the legislation requires that, if the stadium district was disbanded and Green Bay given total responsibility for the lease, the sales tax money would have to go to the city.
The Packers, the stadium district and the city are parties to the lease agreement, and there is a question, raised by a stadium board analysis and others, of whether the lease can be changed without the Packers' consent. Removing one of the parties to the lease could be considered a change.
Steffen contends the lease can be changed by legislation.
The Packers have made it clear they want the stadium board to continue.
"The Stadium District continues to work well and the Packers and Village of Ashwaubenon support the current structure. The Legislature designed and the voters deliberately chose the structure of a single-purpose, non-political entity to oversee Lambeau Field," the team said in a statement on Nov. 1. "Voters chose to support that specific structure by binding referendum. Sales tax was collected specifically for the maintenance of Lambeau Field through the terms of the lease. It is fiscally and operationally responsible to continue to use the funding for the purpose it was collected.
"The District was not designed to dissolve until it fulfilled its obligations in the lease, which runs to 2033. The District's work is not complete."
Keith Lucius, the village's representative on the stadium board, said he is concerned about the money that Steffen wants to take from the district.
"We live in a time where we see municipalities and government units having unfunded or underfunded maintenance plans. Here we have a situation where we have a funded maintenance plan, so lets take that funded maintenance plan and give it back to taxpayers and have an unfunded maintenance plan? That's what this proposal does."
"If you give that money away, you're going to have to get that money from somewhere, and now it's going to be subject to the process of budgeting and everything else and weighted against everything else in the Green Bay budget and you will lose all your control."
Village trustee Jay Krueger said the stadium district is the best method for maintaining the quality of Lambeau Field, which he said is one of the best-kept stadiums in the NFL. He said when NFL cities do not maintain their stadiums — he used Oakland as an example — they lose their football teams.
"We don't want to go into the unknown. At points in time, an apolitical body is better than a political body and this is starting to become a political football. It could be, and I don't want to go there," Krueger said. "This does not have my support in any fact or format."
Steffen created a website, stadiumdistrictfuture.com to gauge the opinions of citizens on his plan. He said 60% of respondees support the proposal.
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Lambeau Field stadium district removal opposed by Ashwaubenon board