It appears the board will need to change either how they post agendas for committee meetings or how they choose to meet.
Before the board committee meetings had even begun Monday evening, the board members heard from the village’s contracted attorney Eileen Brownlee on issues of agenda wording and member participation.
The board adopted the practice of having all committees meet the same evening modeled upon the practice used by the LaCrosse County Board. Village of Gays Mills President Craig Anderson noted that the practice ensured the board members were more fully informed before making decisions, an important tactic as the board dealt with the complexities of flood recovery and development.
Answering questions from trustees Harry Heisz and Kevin Murray about participation, Brownlee clarified that attendance was not the issue if decisions were made. Participation in questioning and input by board members not on the committee meeting created the conflict.
“You’re elected officials,” Brownlee explained. “You cannot attend also as private citizens.”
According to Brownlee the solution is to either not participate in committee meetings of which the trustee is not a member or reword the agenda to indicate all members would be attending. If rewording were adopted, the committees could discuss, but not make decisions or they would risk crossing the threshold of legality that separates a committee meeting from a board meeting.
Being a topic not on the lengthy agenda, board members could not act upon Brownlee’s presentation so further discussion, information seeking and possible formal response will have to be scheduled for the next board meeting.
A missed detail during the buyout closure of 220 Main Street has resulted in Richard and Betty Bell withdrawing from their CouleeCap partnership to build the townhouses currently under construction on Watermelon Way.
Michelle Engh, the CouleeCap housing specialist, reassured the village that work would continue on the townhomes. CouleeCap was covering costs while investment was secured from another party. Engh said they were working with an interested party and that it appeared they would have a new investor within another week.
Losing the Bells as investors occurred when the first of two checks issued in the buyout was made out to the Bells rather than the Kickapoo Ridge Limited Liability Corporation investment account formed for the Bell and CouleeCap partnership. This created a tax liability for the Bells, which made participating in the townhouse project financially unfeasible.
While it did not become clear at what point things went awry, the paperwork made out at the time of application for the two-part buyout disbursement failed to list the LLC investment account as the first entity to be paid.
Attempting to understand how and where the mistake occurred, village board president and finance committee chairman Craig Anderson queried those present who had been involved: Engh, Brownlee, and Flood Recover Coordinator Julia Henley.
Engh was uninvolved in the closure, but indicated that the error would have occurred at the time of acquisition.
Brownlee’s role did not involve negotiation of details, but rather ensuring that the legalities of the transaction were correct and drawing up the closing documents.
Henley, who was responsible for negotiating the buyout agreement, denied responsibility, saying her role in the buyouts ended prior to the closure agreement.
“I wasn’t part of that conversation,” Henley said. “That was not what I was supposed to be working on. I was working on other projects. Investment conversations weren’t through me.”
Engh suggested that since it was unclear where the mistake had occurred, it could be stopped from happening again by making sure anyone else taking a buyout was aware that they should speak to a tax specialist before the contract was closed upon.
Brownlee reaffirmed that passing this advise on was important.
“The village should not take on the role of tax advisor,” Brownlee noted. “The village needs to let them know to speak to a lawyer or tax specialist. They (the seller) may need to transfer the property to an LLC before selling. But, the village cannot make that determination on their behalf.”
The village board’s public works committee chose to recommend approval of a proposal from engineering and planning firm Vierbicher in response to work incorrectly completed by subcontractors Smithback. Specifications for the village water mains in the area of the town homes currently under construction was a 2-inch pipe. When work was begun to connect the new buildings to the water main, it was discovered that one-inch pipe had been used by Smithback.
According to Vierbicher, the problem could be adequately addresses by replacing the existing pipe from the curbstop to the townhomes with one-and-a-half-inch pipe.
“I don’t think we need to discuss if it’s adequate, rather than what did we pay for,” Murray said. “What did the taxpayers pay for?”
Vierbicher recommended that the board have Smithback incur expenses to the total of $3,691 - to repair the pipe work only from the curbstop to the townhomes rather than rip up the street - and also give the village a $1,200 credit for future use.
Trustee Al Zegiel moved that the committee recommend to the board that job be redone to specifications instead, but lacked a second to bring the motion to vote.
It was moved by Murray that Vierbicher’s recommendation be sent to the board. It was seconded by trustee Earl Winsor and passed with Zegiel voting against.
Discussion of how bills from Trillium Design, owned by Julia Henley, were paid resulted in a standstill.
Trustee Geraldine Smith moved that future bills submitted by Henley be paid from the general fund, with reimbursement to the fund made when grant funding to the village came in.
Smith explained that the Trillium invoices represented work related expenses for Henley. Unlike the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration funding which paid Henley a salary for her work, the portion of her pay through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) was product-delivery-based and required monthly billing. By treating it as other bills, Henley then had to wait two weeks to 30 days for reimbursement of job-related expenses.
“Why should Trillium (Designs) be paid differently than the other contractors we work with?” Murray queried.
“It’s only been the last six months that Trillium invoices were treated like this,” Henley responded.
Asked by Anderson if handling the invoices like this for the last six months had been working, Henley responded yes.
“But this just makes extra steps,” Henley said. “As busy as I am and will be through at least December, this is just one more step for the board that doesn’t need to be there.”
“Can we project that in six months that this will be okay,” Murray asked.
“It should be,” Henley replied.
Anderson seconded Smith’s motion, but he and Murray voted nay.
Murray then moved that the invoices continue to be paid as funds became available. Anderson seconded. Murray and Anderson voted in favor, Smith abstained.
Anderson noted to Henley that the discussion could be continued and readdressed later.
Engh addressed the Phase II Formula she had developed to create fair and equitable standards in compliance with Housing and Urban Development to respond to homeowners with any portion of their property in the floodplain requesting a buyout.
The housing replacement project would require participants to build homes in the new development and result in the same equity held in the new home as in the former. The owners of the news homes would receive tax breaks for five years and would have non-mandatory mortgage payments.
“The loans are no interest and are made through the village,” Engh noted. “They don’t have to make a mortgage payment while they live in the house. It’s a deferred payment. CDBG funding does not allow for mandated payments.”
Engh explained that owners are encouraged to consider a monthly payment that paired with the full tax payments that would become due in five years would make comparable monthly payments to what they now pay.
Adoption of the formula will be discussed and voted upon at the next board meeting.
In other business, the Gays Mills Village Board committees:
• decided to recomend light shields be installed on the security lights around the EMS building to address the light nuisance they have created for neighbors. Motion sensors will be considered for south and east lights if the shields prove inadequate.
• heard Vierbicher will seek to negotiate settlement of a $20,240.69 invoice for interest submitted by Niesen & Sons Landscaping caused by an EDA gap in funding. The topic will be readdressed at the regular board meeting.
• decided to schedule a special hearing to address the alcohol license complaint made against Karen Easton, the former owner of Two Bucks Bar and Grill.
• recommended payment of regular monthly and other relocation bills pending a walk through and confirmation of punch list items by Jim Chellevold of the Fischl invoice, contingent upon funding.
• recommended approval of the contract with Ocooch Mountain Rescue.
• recommended approval of a Fischl change order and pay requests, Weiser Brothers change order, and Olympic Builders change order.
• recommended approval of Doug Enke’s alcohol license application for the Last Call Bar, located at 312 Main Street.
• recommended having McCormick Electric remove the village siren promptly before the former EMS building is demolished.
• recommended approving a rental agreement with Roger Chrapla for the use of the former village office at $80 per month for April and May.
• reiterated the guidelines for building rental of the old Gays Mills Community Building on Main Street in response to concern over damage and liability issues raised by rollerskating announced in the Crawford County Independent. All rental uses must go through Dawn McCann to insure the use is acceptable.
• recommended purchase requests for portions of village lots and/or garages on acquired properties be addressed case by case by the full board.
• recommended a board resolution specifying the return of monies from the sale of non-low-and-moderate-income lots in the new development to the line item for LMI benefit.