SOLDIERS GROVE - Randy Swiggum and his brother Dan from Monona, Wisconsin, appeared in front of the Soldiers Grove Village Board at their meeting on Thursday, July 9 to discuss support for a project to regenerate Myrtle Lake. The lake is located in the old part of the village in the park.
According to Swiggum, who has formed a group with 152 members on Facebook, the waters of the lake used to be clear when he and his brother were children. The spring that feeds the lake had a good flow that, according to Swiggum, prevented the lake waters from growing algae.
“When we were kids, that water was clear and cold all summer long,” Swiggum said. “All the kids in the village would go down there and swim.”
Swiggum pointed out that in 1995, Roger Turnmire had secured a permit to dredge the lake, and Swiggum hopes to reopen that permit. Swiggum and his group have already done some work with shovels and hoes to try to open up the spring and increase its flow.
“We pulled out the old gazebo from the park that got washed away in the 2018 flood,” Swiggum said. “We also have been cutting wood, and checking out both the inlet and outlet of the lake.”
“I remember when the Corps came and dredged the lake out,” village trustee Steve George said. “The problem is that the area around the spring just keeps collapsing, and that slows the flow.”
Swiggum said that there is lots of grant money as well as private funds available for the purpose of improving waterways. He pointed out that increasing the capacity of the lake by removal of built up sediment, as well as improving the flow out of the outlet could also help the village in flooding situations.“I think it’s a real economic opportunity for the village,” Swiggum said. “If the project is successful, we could create a nice swimming hole, and that would be good for the campground and good for the village.”
Dan Swiggum discussed a method of sediment removal he had seen deployed on Lake Monona in the Madison area. The method involves use of bio bags, which are placed with landscaping or shaping for water flow in place, and then filled up with the sediment from the lake. He said that once the sediment is secured in the bags, the water is drained out, and then vegetation can be grown quickly over the bags.
“We could potentially use placement of the bio bags as part of an engineering approach to help with flood mitigation,” Randy Swiggum said.
Swiggum said that if the group were to receive the board’s blessing to pursue the project, he would form a non-profit, which could pursue and accept funding that became available.
The board voted unanimously to give Swiggum and his group approval to move forward with the project. Village president Paul Nicholson asked Swiggum that he “keep the board updated.” He also said that the board would need to think about liability insurance for the project to protect the village.
Just prior to the board meeting, the Soldiers Grove Planning Commission met, with a number of village residents in attendance. The topic they took up was consideration of a request by Noel Miller for a conditional use permit to allow development of a restaurant in the old tobacco warehouse property.
The planning commission recommended to the board that the request be approved, and the board unanimously approved the request on a roll call vote.
“The assumption is, though, based on the feedback and concerns expressed by neighbors, that there will be good communication, and everyone will work together to resolve any parking issues,” Nicholson observed.
The 2019 audit
A representative from Johnson Block and Company, Inc., was present at the board meeting to deliver the village’s 2019 audit results. She told the board that they had completed their audit and issued an unmodified report. The scope of the audit included all funds and activities of the village, and the company has prepared and filed the regulatory report with the Public Service Commission (PSC), and the MFR Report with the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.
In a separate audit communication aimed at the village board, the report listed areas where the village could improve their operations. Those areas included things like having more than one person involved with cash disbursement, monitoring and reconciling balance sheet accounts relating to inter-fund activity on a monthly basis, adding the bank accounts for the CDC and library to the general ledger, formalizing an anti-fraud program/policy, and more.
Total revenues from the general fund, CDBG grant, fire department fund, and nonmajor funds was $546,325. Total expenditures were $681,545, with a negative variance between revenue and expenditures of $135,220. This situation was attributed mainly to costs associated with clean up and repairs following the 2018 flood.
The village’s general fund has shown a steady decreasing trajectory since a high of $491,994 in 2014. The general fund ending balance as of December 31, 2019 is $183,104. By far the greatest source of revenue for the village is shared revenues, with the amount received on a flat line since 2014 at $230,504. There was a very slight uptick in 2019, with the amount increasing to $230,567. Amounts collected through property taxes have increased only slightly between 2014 and 2019 as well.
In 2019, the village’s water utility generated $29,642 in operating income. The village’s sewer utility, which experienced high repair costs, finished the year with a $16,866 operating loss.
In observations, the report said that the utilities have undertaken capital projects and have not had full rate adjustments for some time. The auditors recommended that consideration be given to filing a rate increase application with the PSC that would allow the Water Utility to earn its allowed rate of return. In addition, they recommended that the Sewer Fund should look at a more significant rate increase than in prior years.
In other business, the board:
• heard from librarian Cele Wolfe that the Soldiers Grove Public Library planned to open its doors again in the next week or two for brief visits, allowing only one family at a time in the children’s area
• approved a proposal from Driftless Brewing Company to use the parking lot area along the side of their building for outdoor seating, pending checking with the village’s attorney about liability considerations
• discussed solutions to a discrepancy with the property description of the parcel the village had sold to the Big Buck Rod and Gun Club, and agreed to table the matter until the next meeting• approved a $300 donation to Gays Mills for the Fourth of July Fireworks.