SOLDIERS GROVE - Recent months have seen much hoopla, discussion, and door-to-door canvassing about keeping chickens in the Village of Soldiers Grove. Yet, when the moment came on Thursday, June 10, for a public hearing the silence was deafening.
At the board’s April meeting, village resident Sammy Goodwin and her son Peyton Zitzner had addressed the board, asking them to consider allowing residents to keep backyard chickens. The board again discussed the issue at their May meeting and decided to do some research about what other villages and cities do to regulate backyard chickens.
Between the May and June meetings, a public input meeting was scheduled and advertised in the Independent-Scout. The meeting took place from 6-6:30 p.m., just prior to the village board meeting. At that meeting, the board was scheduled to vote on whether to ask their attorney to draft a backyard chicken ordinance.
And after all that, it was a complete no-show!
When it came time later in the meeting for the board to take a vote, Trustee Vicki Campbell asked about Peyton Zitzner and how many signatures he had collected.
“He collected a lot,” Trustee Homer Arndt said. “I think it’s strange that no one is here to present the signatures or to speak for a chicken ordinance.”
Trustee Harrison Heilman moved to leave the ordinance on the keeping of chickens in the village as-is, and Trustee Roy Davidson seconded the motion. The motion was adopted unanimously.
“What if the little boy comes back to our meeting?” Campbell asked. “Do we revisit the topic?”
“Anything can be revisited,” Soldiers Grove Village President Paul Nicholson said.
Heilman asked what would happen with the chickens currently being kept in the village. Nicholson said that residents keeping chickens in the village will receive a letter and the chickens will have to be removed.
Carol Roth from Driftless Development was present to address the board, and offer assistance in determining how best to use the village’s funding from the American Rescue Plan (ARPA). The village will receive a total of $50,000 in two installments.
“We held listening sessions around the county, and the five things that bubbled up as priorities were attracting diverse young workers and families, increasing available housing options, improving the perception of our schools, providing broadband to homes and businesses, and revitalizing business districts and downtowns,” Roth said. “If you have any ideas about how you’d like to use the ARPA funds let me know – one of the things you could use the funds for is to hire business consultants.”
Nicholson told her that the Village of Soldiers Grove had decided not to turn their ARPA money over to the county.
Roth asked the board what things they are most worried about in the village.
“For me it would be attracting businesses and families,” Campbell said.
“For me it is housing,” Nicholson said. “I am also interested in the possibility of acquiring land for a new business park.”
“I think what is needed is more services,” resident Randy Swiggum said. “Tourism is the village’s biggest strength.”
Roth told the board that Driftless Development is conducting a fundraising drive countywide for their services, and in the past the village had contributed $1,200. She asked if the board was interested in giving that amount again.
“What would we get for that money?” Campbell asked.
“It would get me,” Roth said. “I would make it my mission to ensure that this end of the county doesn’t get forgotten in economic development.”
Campbell moved to allocate $1,200 from the room tax money to Driftless Development, and the motion was adopted unanimously.
Nicholson reported that Gary Koch of Driftless Development had delayed submission of a proposed new sewer utility rate ordinance until he could look more deeply into the way that businesses in the village were charged. He said Koch’s recommendation was to eliminate the REU for residents and businesses, and base everything on the size of the meter.
According to the DNR ‘User Charge System and Sewer Ordinance’ page on their website, the definition of ‘REU’ is:
“In communities without meters, charges are generally on a per Residential Equivalent Unit (REU) basis. One REU is intended to represent the equivalent of a single-family residence. Commercial, institutional and other residential facilities are assigned REUs based on the expected flows from each type of facility.”
“By eliminating the REU and basing everything on the size of the meter, the charging will be much more fair,” Nicholson said. “What it means is that charges for most of the businesses will go down and a few will go up.”
Nicholson said that for an average household using 7,700 gallons of water per year, the bill will go up about $4.18 per month. He said that for a larger family using more water, it would go up more.
“Our current ordinance means that a family of two is charged the same as a family of four-to-six,” Campbell pointed out.
Nicholson pointed out that after the village had changed engineers, the sewer system had already started to make money in 2020.
The board passed the new sewer ordiance unanimously.
Public Works report
Nicholson reported that he had recently participated in a pre-construction meeting with the engineering firm that is overseeing the sewer upgrade project.
“They are very level-headed and down to earth,” Nicholson reported. “They will start to prep next week for the new lift station.”
Nicholson said that materials for the project are proving very difficult to secure, but he says that the project managers are good watchdogs.
“They have another project scheduled for this year after they complete ours,” Nicholson pointed out. “That makes it more likely that they will complete the work as quickly as possible.”
Nicholson also asked the board to approve the $15,975 bid from Liquid Engineering from Billings, Montana, to clean the water tower.
“Every few years we actually have to clean the tower out on the inside and the outside, and there’s not very many firms that do this work,” Nicholson said. “The contractor will provide the pop-off valves, and maybe some of the ARPA money can be used for this.”
The board approved the bid from Liquid Engineering unanimously.
Police officer update
Nicholson reported that the village’s new contracted police officer had been busy in the village since the last meeting.
“He’s made two arrests on warrants and pursued a stolen vehicle,” Nicholson said. “All of the dogs and the unlicensed vehicles are in compliance now, and I have given him a to-do list.”
Nicholson said he and Soldiers Grove Village Clerk Kaitlynn Gander function as the liaisons with the officer.
In other business
In other business, the board:
• approved a proposal from Cele Wolfe to create a container garden in front of the library
• gave approval to the Swamp Project People to hold a fundraising event in the park on August 28, with the proviso that they would have to work around the sewer project construction work
• indicated that their approval was not necessary to allow ‘Yoga in the Park’ to be held every Wednesday
• agreed to use CDC funds to pay for the new village signs and for potting soil for the village’s flowerpots
• heard that the fire department had received a $2,900 grant from M,G&E for equipment used to detect carbon dioxide and other gases
• agreed to donate $200 to the Soldiers Grove American Legion for the Memorial Day picnic they had put on for veterans• agreed to donate $500 to the Gays Mills Swimming Pool.