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Fire Department tackling budget
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Approval was given to the Soldiers Grove Fire Department to draw money from their reserve account to pay expenses, which exceeded both the department’s budget and available funds at the regular meeting of the Soldiers Grove Board on Thursday, Dec. 5.

The fire department’s budget for 2013 was $55,000. The remaining budgeted funds after the payment of December’s bills would be $9,358. But the fire department was requesting to exceed that amount in order to pay $2,500 for the Christmas party, $2,600 for officers’ pay, and $12,120 for firemen’s pay.

The Soldiers Grove Fire Department has a separate account, the Red Coats account, which they use as a slush fund for fundraising activities. The board approved a transfer of $10,220 from that account to cover the shortfall.

The fire department will be working directly with the board in 2014 to create a budget, according to Soldiers Grove Village President Laurel Hestetune. Village clerk Tamera Kepler will produce monthly reports to assist the department keep track of its expenses.

The final drawdown for the Soldiers Grove Public Library expansion project was approved for $37,802, marking the end of the project.

Librarian Cele Wolf asked that the approximate $2,500 left over from the 2013 budget be rolled over as contingency funds for the library.

“We cut $7,000 from the budget, but we have no contingency fund,” Wolf said. “If a computer went down, we have nothing to fall back on. It would be difficult to replace. Having that would be very helpful.”

“It’s tough for a small library to cut this much and we’ve already said we would help,” noted trustee Jim Helgerson.

The board unanimously approved the request and Hestetune reminded Wolf that the board would revisit the library funding in the fall to see if any additional funds were available.

The owners of Driftless Brewing Company introduced themselves and their product to the village board. Christopher Balistreri and Michael Varnes-Epstein have an accepted bid on the former grocery store and are working to secure financing in order to expand their operation currently located in rural Excelsior.

Their plans include a brew house for patrons to purchase their product and to drink onsite, though food would not be sold since the village already had two restaurants, Varnes-Epstein said.

“We spent two to three years planning,” Varnes-Epstein said. “Demand is already greater than our current space allows for production.

“Water is an issue, and we would like permission to drill our own well,” Varnes-Epstein continued, estimating the business would use approximately 3,300 gallons per week for production and cleaning. His estimate for sewer use was 141,000 gallons per year. Water use was expected to come in below that requiring a high-capacity well permit.

“I was wondering if the village would want to be involved in the drilling?” asked Hestetune.

“I don’t have a problem with that, but I don’t know that we can work on private property,” Helgerson responded. “This seems like the CDC is the proper venue to ask.”

“They are meeting with them tomorrow,” Hesetune said. “CDC has a $25,000 cap on how much they loan.”

“Can we have them go to $30,000?” asked trustee Shayne Chapman.

The board agreed to ask the CDC to consider the higher amount.

If approved for the loan, the brewery will have a two-year grace period before they must begin paying the loan back.

The board went into closed session to discuss employment issues and to discuss the preliminary consideration of specific personnel problems. No action was taken.

In other business, the Village of Soldiers Grove Board:

• received thanks from and heard a report on the Driftless Area Arts Festival from Jerry and Liz Quebe;

• approved the monthly bills and gave Kepler approval to pay any coming in before the end of the year;

• took no action on the audit proposal for the fire department accounts;

• instructed Kepler to send a letter to a property owner with tires piled outside informing them of the need to comply with the village junk ordinance;

• tabled the annexation petition of Joanne France pending more information;

• approved the village 2013 end-of-year audit proposal for $10,400;

• approved a donation of $75 for the Santa Claus visit;

• approved the employee Christmas bonuses of $100 to all five regular village employees;

• approved the 2014 budgets; and

• approved the 2014 Budget and Tax Levy Ordinance for $33,723.