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Referendum hot topic in Shullsburg
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SHULLSBURG —Mayor Gloria Swenson called the regular common council meeting to order on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2016 at 6:30 p.m. to a fairly full Townsend Center meeting room.
     Alder Emmett Rielly asked to have an advisory referendum regarding the McCoy development be put on the agenda. Rielly stated, “I think the referendum would be the best way to go forward. So the development would have the support of the community, if they want to do it. This is a twenty-year commitment and it’s not usual business for the city. This will severely curtail our future borrowing capacity. We want the development to be successful, but I really think with this amount of money – it should be approved on a referendum.
    Mayor Swenson opened the floor for comments from citizens present with a one minute and thirty second limit.
    Tom Lethlean began by saying “I don’t think a referendum is required. Two weeks ago we had motion to move forward on the project and it passed 3-1. Nothing was mentioned in regard to a referendum at that time. I put my faith on the council, they can make those decisions.”
    A point was made by Alder Cory Ritterbusch that a referendum is not required to move forward.
    Carl Ballard said, “This is not a normal thing for a community, for the city to be a developer, although I’m in favor of the development, you hear a lot of people who are not aware of this. Legally you don’t have to have a referendum, but I think we need to be open about this and get it out to the public and if they vote it down, they vote it down. If they vote for it then no one will have a cause to complain. I feel we should have a referendum.”
    Jason Weiskircher said, “This is a large investment for the City of Shullsburg. This is not normal city business. The last meeting I was able to make, Alder Jim Paquette told me the entire plan was discussed in the meeting or in the minutes. I have researched all the minutes, they have differing information. The minutes say seventeen lots, Lethlean said 33 lots. Seventeen lots would equal $76,000 the city would be spending on each of these lots. I’m for the housing development, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for the City of Shullsburg to finance this development. All other developments are financed by another developer. I think people should have their voice heard on this.”
    Dan Spillane stated, “Let the people speak, I was on the council when we built the city garage. This isn’t anything like that. Down the road – will we make money off of this or will we lose money off of this?
    Stan Woodworth spoke, “ First of all cities aren’t in business to make money, they’re in business to manage the city. We’ve elected officials to make good sound decisions. We turn that responsibility over to these folks. For us to believe that we have a referendum every time there is a decision to be made at the council level, that’s just ludicrous. It’s time for us to look at what we can do to develop the city, for the future. Look at other cities expanding all around us, we’re behind the times. It’s time we recognize that. I’m in favor of the council to make this decision.
    Dan Morrissy said, “When you sit on these boards you think about growth. Growing your community. I remember I got a petition from 100 mad people because the city sold lots for a dollar. Several houses and businesses were built and the city received a lot of tax money for those houses and businesses that were built. I took a lot of heat for that, but it was worth it because you got to grow this community. Growing this community is a normal thing.”
    Wayne Gehrt said, “I think this is up to the council to decide what they want to do and take responsibility for it and if you get voted out of office then you’ll know you got voted out for a damn good reason.”
    Rielly took the floor and reiterated several of his previous points and then added, “Two or three years down the road there will be no income from this, even if there are three house built in the first year. If there was $5,000 taxes on those three houses, we would get about $2,500 a piece in the second and third year. I don’t see how…” someone interrupted and said, “But see what you got in twenty years!” Rielly responded with what TIF specialist Petterson said, ‘It didn’t work in Orfordville.’
    Woodworth asked Rielly, “How many places has it worked? You talk about Orfordville not working, where has it worked. Do you even know that or have any information on successful developments? You’re trying to kill something before it gets off the ground.” Reilly responds, “I’m not trying to kill anything Stan.” Woodworth says, “You absolutely are Emmett, where’s all the information that you think you know. I don’t see it.” Rielly, “That’s the point Stan,” Woodworth, “So why are you trying to kill it with not knowing all the information. Emmett, you can’t be against everything all the time. Somebody has to stand up for this city and you guys are the ones that should be doing it.” Rielly, You’re classifying me as against it. I want it to go forward, I just don’t want to pay for it all out of the city budget.” Woodworth’s last word, “The council was appointed to make decisions, do your jobs and that includes you Emmett, do your job.”
    Bruce Russell said, “ I don’t live in Shullsburg, but I have business interests in Shullsburg. I’m in favor of this project and I think the public has been well informed for the past several months. This is something the city really needs to do. You talking negative about Orfordville, look at our neighboring town Benton, it’s worked great over there, they’re growing.”
    Two bits of information that Lathlean presented were: If your using TIF money and TIF guidelines you’re obligated to have three residences per acre. There is a square foot requirement for houses being built in the development. One level 1,800 square feet, two levels 4,200 square feet, at $125 construction costs equals to $225,000 per house figure as an estimate.
    Spillane spoke again, “I’ve learned a lot at this meeting, I see where you’re coming from. Maybe we need to get this information out to the public more, so the public will understand what’s going on.” (RJ note: this story has been covered in the Republican Journal since it began in late May)
    Ritterbusch answered questions about demand, “I’ve met extensively with real estate agents in the region, I’ve met with Southwest Planning Commission, I have twenty-four hours invested in research of housing needs. They all say there is a great demand for this type of housing, lot size, price point, etc. this project has been designed for what is in demand right now.”
    Rielly’s final statement, “I want to make it clear. This is not about the lots being given to prospective house builders. The referendum is about – should the city spend $1.2 million on this development and when are you going to get that money back. It’s too big of a project. I’m looking at the return – it won’t be there. Down the road when we have to raise real estate taxes or utility bills, there are people in this town that can’t afford this. Somebody has to speak for them and that’s what I’m doing” Ritterbusch pointed out, “It should be noted that Shullsburg has the lowest taxes and utility rates in the region.” Reilly countered, “And you want to change all that?”
    The council moved past the referendum issue and at the end of the meeting Gehrt reminded the council that no action was taken regarding the referendum. Reilly quickly made a motion to have a referendum asking citizens if the city should go ahead with the McCoy Development at the soonest possible date. Mayor Swenson asked for a second three times. There was no second, so the motion died.
    Dan Houtakker and Kathy Heim were ready to build a building on property that was deeded to them in 2003, they went to get building permits and found out the lot that they thought they had deeded, was not the lot they deeded. A mix up had taken place and they were deeded a different property in Shullsburg. All parties involved agree that the property they thought they deeded should have been the one that they were deeded. The misdeed error was made by city attorney, at the time, Lance McNaughton.
    Dawn Shawcross, who shares a driveway with the property, found out that most of her driveway and part of her front yard may not be hers. Now a survey needs to be performed and who will pay for the survey. According to Heim, Lance McNaughton has said he will take the blame for everything, if he was at fault. The estimate on the survey came in at $2,300.
    The city approved joining the Lafayette Development Corporation (LDC) in 2016 for $2,033, and will consider putting it the budget for 2017 at $6,100. The LDC will write a grant for Department of Administration.
    In other business the council approved: Temporary Beer & Wine license for St. Mathews Church, Fall Festival, Sept. 10, 2016; temporary operator license for Cheryl Mulcahy, Dennis Blankenhiem; Closing Francis Street from Diagonal Street to the end for a block party Sept. 9, 2016; Fall Clean Up Day – Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016 and no electronics will be accepted.