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Gays Mills board considers options in redevelopment efforts
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The Gays Mills Village Board spent almost four hours working through a long agenda in committee meetings Monday night.

The finance committee meeting began with a discussion of funding and spending on the village’s new relocation projects. While funding from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Agency (EDA) and Wisconsin Department of Administration’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) is flowing into the village, there are delays and other problems with both, project manager Kurt Muchow told the board.

Muchow is the lead planner for Vierbicher and Associates, the firm hired to design and implement the redevelopment project located along Highway 131 on the northern edge of the village. After briefing the board on the status of funding and mounting bills from the contractors, Muchow said that he expected to lose some ground in paying bills in the coming month, before things turn around.

The village has a deficit of $1,157,000 in November and that is predicted to increase $1,290,000 in December, according to Muchow. The increase would come despite the village expending another $717,000 in funding in the month from EDA and CDBG sources. Contractor’s requests for payment will continue to arrive.

Both funding sources have been reluctant to release funds in the timely manner they had agreed upon earlier, Muchow explained. CDBG funds, which are federal funds the state is given to disperse, were used at one point to pay for construction that late-arriving EDA money was expected to fund. Now, as EDA funds are obtained and that money is repaid to the CDBG fund, it is then reallocated to the village for purposes it was originally intended.

While Muchow proposed taking almost $100,000 in grant funds and repaying the village to reduce a $500,000 loan, the board questioned whether the money could be better spent by paying one of the contractor’s bills to leverage quicker funding from EDA.

Board member Kevin Murray was the one to broach the subject with Muchow. The planner agreed paying $100,000 toward a Niesen contractor’s bill for infrastructure work would get EDA to provide another $62,000 toward the project in the coming month.

Board President Craig Anderson did some quick figuring on the interest that the village owes the bank on the loan and estimated that one month’s interest on $100,000 might be around $250.

After some discussion, the finance committee decided to recommend to the board using the money to pay Niesen and thereby leveraging more funds from EDA sooner.

“How we pay them back affects cash flow and right now we have more demands than cash to flow,” Anderson said of the situation.

Muchow told the board that he’d continue to work on the finances to be sure he had “a workable plan” for the next seven months.

Although posted as committee meetings, the finance committee (Anderson, Murray and Geraldine Smith) recognized that four bills needed to be approved for payment before the regular Dec. 5 board meeting. The committee asked that the board, which had a quorum with board members Albert Zegiel and Harry Heisz present, act to approve paying about $6,000 for the routine expenditures to avoid paying late fees and interest payments. The board approved the payment.

The finance committee also approved recommending the board approve a variety of other routine expenditures at the meeting next Monday. In a separate motion, the committee recommended the board approve paying five new contractor pay requests contingent on the money becoming available to make the payments.

The finance committee also considered recommending changing health insurance coverage for village employees to a plan that would use health savings accounts (HSA) to pay employee deductibles. The committee believes the plan would provide adequate coverage to employees, while helping the village avoid paying a 33-percent premium increase from their current plan with Gundersen Health Insurance. Heisz told his fellow board members that he would have some answers about taxes and the HSAs by the board meeting next Monday.

Finance committee members seemed pleased with a revised contract for management of the Kickapoo Culinary Center, also known as the Gays Mills Community Kitchen, presented by the would-be manager Brad Niemcek. The Gays Mills Economic Development Association (GMEDA) is proposing to run the kitchen, located in the new Gays Mills Community Commerce Center, for the village with Niemcek in charge.

The revised contract was looser about community use and that seemed more acceptable to Heisz and Zegiel, who had objected to an earlier version they felt weren’t considering the needs of village residents to use the kitchen and the adjoining village hall for funerals, weddings and other events. Heisz said the 48-hour notification might have to be waived in the case of some funerals and Niemcek said language allowing that could be written into the contract.

Heisz and other board members also questioned the portion of the rules that wouldn’t allow children younger than 14 to work in the kitchen as part of community-sponsored events. Niemcek also relented and said language accommodating the supervised work of younger people could be included.

Both Murray and Heisz indicated they were comfortable with the new contract and rules. Anderson moved to recommend approval to the board and it was seconded by Murray and passed by the committee.

“Thank you Brad,” board member Geraldine Smith said. “What you’ve been doing is very appreciated.”

The board also heard and approved a proposal presented by CouleeCap’s Michele Engh to build a seven-unit townhouse building near the two five-unit buildings that the agency built last year.

This project would be built by a “private, for-profit arm” of the non-profit agency Engh explained. Because of the for-profit status of the owner, the resultant housing would increase the village’s tax base, according to the housing specialist. The project would receive almost $1 milllion in CDBG funding, as well as some private investment, according to Engh.

In addition to the seven-unit townhouse project, Engh told the finance committee CouleeCap was also willing to administer $400,000 in CDBG funding to elevate and flood-proof existing rental housing in the floodplain.

The committee approved recommending board approval of Couleecap’s request to sign a developer’s agreement to build the townhouses and administer the floodplain elevation of existing rental properties. They also approved recommending sale of Lot 16 adjacent to the current townhouses at Site A for construction of the additional townhouses.

At one point during the finance committee meeting, Chris Smith and Stephanie Brandt asked to address the committee about a proposed buyout and relocation of their business Blackhawk Auto. The couple contended that they had been confused and misled by statements the Gays Mills Flood Recovery Coordinator Julie Henley had made about a possible buyout and relocation to the former New Horizon building on Highway 131. That building was vacated, when New Horizons relocated with other businesses to the Marketplace near the Gays Mills Mercantile Center further north on Highway 131.

Both Stephanie and Chris said they questioned the appropriateness of the space for their needs and didn’t see a workable plan emerge. Stephanie questioned why the buyout of their building appeared on the agenda of the board meeting last month, when there was no plan in place.

Henley said she had worked with and contacted Blackhawk Auto about a possible buyout and relocation and they had shown interest. She said that one plan involving the use of DNR funding had fallen through after being initially approved by the state.

 The flood recovery coordinator also said she didn’t know why a buyout of their building was placed on last month’s board meeting agenda and if it was because of her actions she apologized. She acknowledged there was no buyout or relocation plan ready for Blackhawk Auto at this time.

As board members, like Murray, urged Henley to work with the couple on a new buyout and relocation plan, Stephanie Brandt was hesitant. Finally, she asked that somebody else beyond Henley be involved. Ultimately, Henley suggested board president Craig Anderson be part of the process. Anderson agreed and the Blackhawk Auto owners also agreed to have him involved.

The issue of tree planting in the new development along the sidewalks drew considerable discussion during the ensuing Public Works and Utilities Committee meeting. Murray spoke in favor of the measure saying trees enhanced livability and increased property values. It was a position favored by Henley, who brought the matter before the committee. The other public works committee member, Albert Zegiel, did not favor planting trees along the residential streets of the new development because of the root damage to sidewalks and streets, as well as other problems, and obscuring views of the surrounding scenery.

With the committee split on trees in the sidewalk terraces, no recommendation was made to the board on the matter.

The Gays Mills Village Board meeting is scheduled for Monday, Dec. 5 with a public hearing about the proposed townhouse designs at 6 p.m. to be followed by a public hearing on 2012 proposed village budget and levy to be immediately followed by the regular board meeting.

Following a closed session meeting Monday night, the finance committee reconvened in open session to approve recommending to the board a buyout of the Dommersnaes-Bertram Funeral Home at 102 Grove Street. The finance committee did not approve recommending the board approve a buyout of a small former gas station at 500 Main Street that was to be used as an ice cream stand. The buyouts would be financed with CDBG funds.