By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — By the time the Colfax Plan Commission completes the year-long process of updating the village’s Smart Growth Comprehensive plan, commission members are going to know more about Colfax than they ever thought possible.
The Colfax Plan Commission met June 4 to begin work on the “issues and opportunities” portion of the comprehensive plan, which focuses on demographic data.
Population growth in Colfax has been stagnant over the last 40 years, said Patrick Beilfuss, a planner with Cedar Corporation who has been hired by the village board to help the plan commission update the Smart Growth plan.
State law requires that municipalities update their comprehensive plans every ten years.
In the last four decades, the population in Colfax has increased by 132, which translates into 33 new residents every ten years, or three new residents each year, Beilfuss said.
Colfax has the sixth lowest growth rate of the 30 townships, villages and cities in Dunn County, he said.
As for the future, the low growth rate for Colfax is predicted to continue.
The projections for growth indicate that Colfax will gain 42 new residents every ten years, Beilfuss said.
The combination of past growth and growth predicted for the future indicates that Colfax will have gained only 225 new residents over a 90-year period, he said.
When municipalities experience a slow rate of population growth, economic growth also is very slow, Beilfuss said.
A slow growth rate means that as the people who live in a municipality grow older, more people will be living on fixed incomes with less disposable income, he said.
And as the population ages, with very few new people moving into Colfax, the village has fewer working-age people, Beilfuss said.
If a new company or industry were to come to Colfax, the company or industry probably would not be able to find enough employees, he said.
In the absence of new companies or industries, and with the recent downturn in home prices, Colfax has a shrinking tax base, Beilfuss pointed out.
At the same time, the village’s costs for maintaining infrastructure, such as roads, is increasing, and because Colfax has had such a slow population growth, the increased costs are spread out over the same population base, he said.
“As the expenses grow, the same people and the same businesses keep paying,” Beilfuss said.
At the same time, the village board’s options to pay those increased costs would be to raise taxes or to cut back on services, he said.
The average annual income in Colfax is $39,500. The state average is $52,000. The Dunn County average income is $48,000, Beilfuss said.
Colfax has an aging population on a fixed income, which reduces the average annual income in the village, he said.
“If I were to move to Colfax, and I wanted to build a house, where could I build it?” Beilfuss asked.
Plan commission members were quick to reply.
The answer is — nowhere.
Colfax does not have any buildable lots for residential, said Gary Stene, plan commission member.
In fact, Colfax has only one available site in the industrial park and only one available site for commercial development, Stene noted.
The population in Colfax will shrink if the village relies on natural population growth, Beilfuss said.
To grow, Colfax needs to have people move into the village, he said.
The question then becomes, with no space available to build houses, and little space available for new businesses or commercial enterprises, how is Colfax going to attract more people to live in the village? Beilfuss said.
Stene said he would advocate for the village to buy land for residential, industrial and commercial development so that it would be available when opportunities come along.
“If a business came to Colfax tomorrow looking for land, we wouldn’t be able to move fast enough to get it for them, and (the business) would go somewhere else,” Stene said.
If the village were to consider acquiring land for housing, one issue to consider is population density, Beilfuss said.
A larger lot for single family residential might have only a couple of people living in the house, but if a 12-plex were built, the potential would be for at least 12 people to occupy the same lot, he noted.
Beilfuss also referred to the placemaking workshop that Colfax participated in last summer facilitated by the Project for Public Spaces with assistance from the West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.
Three main themes emerged from the workshop: a need for pedestrian safety; improved signs to help people find their way; and downtown aesthetics and comfort.
Colfax has a distinct absence of signs telling people how to find various places in the village, such as the fairgrounds, parks, the village hall, restaurants, shops, the downtown area, the railroad museum and the elementary, middle school and high school.
Not having any signs greatly reduces the possibility of people stopping in Colfax on their way through, Beilfuss said.
“If they didn’t already know there is a railroad museum, they would not know it driving through town,” he said.
Beilfuss asked the plan commission to list the main issues facing Colfax.
Some of the issues identified by the plan commission included the lack of economic growth and the increases in property taxes; the lack of residential housing and no land available for lots; and crumbling infrastructure that needs repair, such as roads, water lines and sewer lines.
Colfax has a seven member plan commission: Scott Gunnufson (village president and chair of the plan commission); Beverly Schauer (village trustee); Mike Buchner (village trustee); Dave Hovre (village resident); Gary Stene (village resident); Nancy Hainstock (village resident); and Jason Johnson (village resident).
The Colfax Plan Commission meets the first Tuesday of the month at 6:30 p.m. at the Colfax village hall.
The public is invited to attend the plan commission meetings.