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Gays Mills Board discusses Community Kitchen’s future
gays mills village board

GAYS MILLS - The future of the Kickapoo Culinary Center became a topic of conversation at the Gay Mills Village Board meeting following a presentation by Brad Niemcek, the director of the shared-use kitchen.

Niemcek said rental use of the commercial kitchen located in the Gays Mill Community Commerce Center was down. He reported revenue collected in May of this year was the smallest monthly amount ever collected in the kitchen’s eight-year history.

Niemcek, who will be resigning as the director of the Kickapoo Culinary Center on August 1, also told the board that the kitchen’s walk-in freezer was in need of repair. He estimated freezer repair cost would be around $2,500.

Village trustee Kevin Murray questioned whether spending the money to fix the freezer was worth it. Murray also questioned whether the village should even continue to operate the kitchen.

“I don't think government should be running a business,” Murray said at one point.

The Kickapoo Culinary Center is set up to be a food business incubator and it has helped launch two or three successful businesses and been instrumental in helping a few others along the way.

Niemcek said the decline in rental revenue from the kitchen seems to be tied to the COVID-19 ‘Safer at Home’ order, which closed down parts of the economy.

As far as the appropriateness of the shared-use kitchen, Niemcek noted that there is a proliferation of the kitchens across the country, but most are in more populous places. He explained the limited rural population was a challenge for the local kitchen.

Kevin Murray questioned the value of investing in the kitchen going forward.

Village president Harry Heisz pointed out it has been a resource to the community in the past and gets use.

Kevin Murray said it was necessary to ascertain the state of the kitchen and assess what needs to be fixed. He said the village needed a five or ten-year outlook on the kitchen

Village trustee Lee Ruegg disagreed with some of Kevin’s assessment of the kitchen situation.

“With the economy the way it’s going now, there’s no way to get a five or ten-year outlook,” Ruegg said.

Niemcek pointed out that the village has not paid anything toward operating the kitchen to this point. The Gays Mills Economic Development Association in conjunction with the director have run the kitchen at break even.

The situation is changing, Kevin Murray noted.

Niemcek said that in addition to the Hazelnut Company, the kitchen currently has a baker for LaCrosse and a fish farmer from Lynxville renting space.

“Should the village run a private business?” Kevin Murray asked.

Niemcek responded by saying the Kickapoo Culinary Center is “a municipal project.”

Despite Kevin’s concerns about cost to the village, Aaron Fortney explained that to date, the kitchen has “not cost the village a dime.”

Niemcek noted that the kitchen was never designed to make a profit. The plan was always to break even. Facing the expense of $2,500 on the walk-in freezer was the first time the village would pay anything.

“There will be more,” Kevin Murray countered.

Fortney pointed out that the village loses $10,000 to $15,000 on the pool every year.

“A lot of people from the village have used the kitchen,” village president Harry Heisz said. “We need to see if we can find someone to take over as director. We need to see if anyone is interested. We can’t let it sit here and go dead.”

“Churches have used it,” Ruegg said. “We’ve had community dinners where we got to meet our neighbors and many others have used it. It’s been used to raise money.”

Niemcek added that he was more the willing to train anybody that takes over his position.

Ruegg moved to place an ad in the Independent-Scout seeking a new director. Fortney seconded the motion and board passed it with Kevin Murray voting against it.

Earlier in the meeting, the board was briefed on the situation with the aging sewer plant and the application to the DNR for an Individual Phosphorus Variance, by Mike Davy of Davy Engineering.

Davy told the board the variance would allow the village to not meet the new lower limit for another five years.

However, the village will have to make some progress toward reducing phosphorus levels in the Kickapoo River, according to the engineer. He outlined three basic paths toward achieving some reduction in phosphorus. 

First, there’s  source reduction. This means trying to identify customers or other sources that are bringing higher levels of phosphorous into the plant. Davy said that in reviewing the situation, he didn’t think there was much in the way of source reduction for the village.

A second type of reduction would be through treatment, and Davy did outline some biological and chemical methods that could be tried and adapted at the sewer plant to lower the phosphorus level.

The third way involved water quality trading. This means the village would work with some non-point source to reduce phosphorus from things like field runoff. A classic example of the is streambank stabilization to stop soil runoff that brings with it phosphorus. Davy said lowering the phosphorous level in the river this way was a very viable option for the village.

The engineer left the report with the board and encouraged them to call with any questions as the plan is designed and put in place to gain the variance. 

In other business the Gays Mills Village Board:

• approved opening the pool on Saturday, June 6-weather permitting

• adopted a pro-rated salary schedule for pool manager Kayla Fortney that will pay for some of the work done before the opening, if the pool is closed early due to the pandemic

• learned an assessment of the old mill museum roof repairs had not yet been made, but would be made soon

• approved a resolution regarding Wisconsin Act 185 Property Tax Installment Payments that would ease burdens for taxpayers in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout

• approved a land lease agreement for 317 Orin Street with Bob Lams

• tabled a decision on whether to buy a new voting machine at a cost of $6,000

• approved a Temporary Class B Liquor License for Societies Sons for September 25-27

• approved a host of annual alcohol beverage licenses, machine licenses and operator’s licenses

• learned the village spring cleanup is June 13