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Budget approval and building delays for Gays Mills
The breakdown for how the mil rate is shared amongst municipal, state and education. - photo by Gays Mills

Vierbicher’s Kurt Muchow told the Gays Mills Village Board that if promised federal funding for the redevelopment project arrives in a timely manner, the village should be able to pay off it’s short term loan of more than $400,000.

“If we get the EDA funding, by the end of February we should be back to even,” Muchow said.

Earlier in the board’s regular monthly meeting, the planner, who manages the village’s redevelopment effort, explained some of the delays in funding.  Muchow said that the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Agency (EDA) was overwhelmed with projects and was far behind schedule on approving amendments to the Gays Mills project proposal that would allow more than $450,000 to be released. He noted approval of the amended proposal was initially anticipated in October.

Muchow believes that the role of EDA may soon change from being “a drag” on the project to being a “positive” force. Delays in EDA funding caused the state-administered Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) funds to be approved for use in temporarily paying bills that should have been paid by EDA funding.

In explaining why EDA was so far behind in the funding process, Muchow noted the agency was “legitimately buried in projects.” The number of projects was increased by stimulus funding (ARRA), designed to jump start the lagging economy, and two flood declarations. These projects were added to the already regularly occurring EDA-funded projects. The agency has not seen a significant increase in staffing and has also experienced the retirement of some key administrators, according to Muchow.

Gays Mills Village President Craig Anderson acknowledged Muchow’s explanation of EDA’s funding problems, but pointed to the unique situation in which the village finds itself.

“Gays Mills proceeded with taking risks,” Anderson said. “We’ve gone out on a limb with their encouragement. We have already extended ourselves. It’s a struggle and I expect it will continue to be a struggle for some time. We have made progress? Yes. Are we happy? No. We have extended ourselves.”

The latest schedule for completion of the Gays Mills Community Commerce Center is Friday, Dec. 30, according to Muchow. The village office is still planning to move on Jan. 9. The Gays Mills Public Library is also planning to move around then.

Village trustee Earl Winsor asked why there was no roofing installed on the building. Aaron Fortney, another village trustee, said that he had been told that more of the building’s trim must be installed before the metal roofing is attached.

Prior to the board’s meeting, there were two public hearings. The first was intended to provide design input for the seven-unit townhouse development being planned for Site A. CouleeCap’s “for-profit arm,” Kickapoo Ridge Townhomes LLC, plans to complete the construction by Sept. 1. Contractors and local residents attended the public hearing.

In answer to a question, CouleeCap housing specialist Michele Engh explained that the project was looking at “modular (construction) simply because we have a very aggressive timeline.” Engh allowed that if a “stick-built (design) could be done within the time frame, we’ll entertain it.”

A public hearing on the proposed Gays Mills 2012 Budget immediately followed the townhouse design hearing.

There was good news and bad news in the budget. A re-evaluation of property values increased the village’s valuation substantially. Before the re-evaluation, the village was estimated to be valuing property at 79 percent of its real market value. Following the recently completed re-evaluation, the property in the village is now valued at 101 percent of its real value, according to village clerk Dawn McCann.

On the other hand, the village’s proposed tax levy increased by a little more than $2,000 to $124,231 for 2012. The mil rate for the village decreased from 7.31 to 6.08. That means for every $1,000 of assessed property value a village resident will pay $6.08 in village property taxes.

The overall mil rate in 2012 for a Gays Mills resident including the North Crawford School District, the Southwest Technical College District, Crawford County and the State of Wisconsin, as proposed, is 24.75. That’s down over 20 percent from the overall 2011 mil rate of 31.13.

Ultimately, the board did not approve the proposed budget because questions remain about the proposed change in the village’s health insurance policies for its four employees. Village trustee Harry Heisz investigated the matter, as he had promised, but was not happy with what he found out. The new insurance plan would require up to $5,000 in deductibles for the family policy and up to $2,500 for an individual policy. The plan would call for the village to deposit $5,000 in health savings accounts (HSAs) for each employee annually to cover the deductibles. Any of the money not spent would accumulate in the account for future health expenses.

However, the plan would also appear to require employees to pay 20-percent of health care expenses until the total out-of-pocket payments between the deductible and the 20-percent co-pays reached $10,000 in a year for families or $5,000 for individuals. Heisz said this point was unclear and needed to be clarified before the board took action to change plans.

The idea to change plans was a reaction to a proposed increase of 33 percent to the rates of the Gundersen Lutheran Insurance Plan used by the village. That increase of about $22,000 would be offset by a reduction in rates from the new plan with deductibles, HSAs and 20-percent co-pays. The proposed plan would cost the village about what it paid for health insurance last year.

Several board members questioned whether the new plan would adequately and fairly provide for the village employee’s health insurance needs. With questions about the proposed health insurance plan unanswered, the board agreed to put off final approval of the budget until a special board meeting scheduled for this Friday, Dec. 9 at 5 p.m. The meeting was initially called at Gays Mills Flood Recovery Coordinator Julie Henley’s request to consider more government-funded buyouts of property in the floodplain.

In other business, the Gays Mills Village Board:

• approved contractor pay requests of almost $1 million contingent on the money becoming available through grants

• agreed to a project management agreement with CouleeCap for elevation of low and moderate income rental housing currently located in the floodplain

• approved a developers agreement with Kickapoo Ridge Townhomes LLC to build a seven-unit townhouse at Site A along Highway 131 on the northern edge of the village

• renewed a contract with Johnson and Block to complete the village’s annual audit

• approved  creating an unpaid village forester position

• approved a policy prohibiting possession of weapons in public buildings and at certain special events held in the village

• approved a contract with Gays Mills Economic Development Association (GMEDA) for the management of the village’s community kitchen being constructed as part of the Community Commerce Center

• tabled action on a resolution adopting the 2012 budget and tax levy until a special board meeting Friday, Dec. 9

• heard a request from a group of concerned citizens to take steps to address improvements on Main Street