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State seeks to stop development on floodplain properties
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A different interpretation of deed restrictions placed on floodplain property, which has been bought out with state-administered Community Development Block Grants, was provided to the Gays Mills Village Board by a state employee.

Stan Kaitfors, an employee of Wisconsin Department of Administration, attended the village board meeting Monday night. He discussed the expectations of the state that property bought out with CDBG-EAP federally provided funds be deed-restricted to not allow future development.

When asked at previous meetings about the policy for development on the lots acquired by CDBG-funded buyouts, Kaitfors had told the board that the village only needed to follow its own floodplain ordinance. Village trustees reminded Kaitfors that he had repeatedly told the village board this at previous meetings.

Under the village’s floodplain ordinance, the property located in floodplain fringe can be built upon if it meets certain criteria including being filled to an elevation over the established flood level.

Kaitfors told the board that his interpretation of the policy is that the lots still to be bought out with CDBG funds and those already owned by the village can be sold, but there can be no development of them. The state employee said that since he “came on board” with the project in 2011 “the message was always that there should be no construction on the lots.”

When lots were acquired with FEMA or DNR funds, the contracts from the agencies clearly defined that the lots were deed-restricted and any future development was prohibited.

Kaitfors apologized to the board if his previous statements has “steered them wrong.” He confirmed in conversation with Karyn Stone, a former employee of the now-defunct Wisconsin Department of Commerce, that the intention was to not have the lots re-developed after CDBG buyouts.

Kaitfors acknowledged it was an error to not have included deed restrictions against development in the contract or the manual about the buyouts. He also said that he was not interested in going back to what had been done and changing things.

Kaitfors stated that the interpretation of the policy to not allow development was “not retroactive.” However, he asked that the village put deed restrictions in place on properties they acquired with CDBG funds and still own.

Village trustee Albert Zegiel took exception with Kaitfors suggested course of action for the village. Zegiel said that placing deed restrictions on future use of the property acquired in CDBG-funded buyouts was one thing, but asking the village to go back and deed-restrict properties already acquired was in fact a retroactive application of the policy.

Village trustee Harry Heisz also took exception with Kaitfors view of the deed restrictions on development of CDBG-funded floodplain buyout property.

“From this point on….I can see it from this point on, but not on what’s already bought out,” Heisz said.

Kaitfors pressed the point.

“When the DNR and FEMA had deed restrictions you never blinked,” Kaitfors said of the village’s past history of buying property that was then deed-restricted against future development. The state employee questioned the idea of rebuilding in the floodplain.

Zegiel took exception to Kaitfors statement and explained that deed restrictions were very much a part of the discussion and decision-making process the village went through in assessing any proposed buyout.

Village trustee Earl Winsor told Kaitfors that if the height of property was brought up to above flood elevations there shouldn't be a problem. Winsor and others noted that government funding was currently being used to elevate rental property in the floodplain.

“My best advice is that any new acquisition is deed-restricted and that the property you hold should be deed-restricted,” Kaitfors told the board at one. “You (can) do whatever you want. In the 21 counties where this was done…it (development on property bought out in floodplains) has not come up in any other county.”

Gays Mills Recovery Coordinator Julia Henley confirmed that it was her impression from working with Stan and Karyn that “anything acquired with federal funds was to be deed-restricted.”

“Proceeding from day one that was what I was told to do,” Henley said.

Kaitfors then attempted to read from the Gays Mills Floodplain Ordinance and claimed it said that “no habitable structure was to built.”

Community Development Alternative’s Dale Klemme, a municipal consultant familiar with the ordinance, and CDA’s Lori Bekkum corrected Kaitfors about his reading.

“You’re reading the wrong part,” Klemme said. “You’re in the floodway and you need to be in the floodplain fringe.”

“I don’t want to be in the floodway or the flood fringe, I want to be up on a hill,” Kaitfors replied and the conversation ended.

The flap with CDBG buyouts and deed restrictions, or the lack thereof, wasn’t the only dispute arising from misunderstandings about the flood recovery effort.

Brian Weiser was present on behalf of Weiser Brothers to collect a final $10,667 owed to the contractor for work completed on the Gays Mills Mercantile Center,

However village trustee Harry Heisz told Weiser the work had not been completed successfully. He told the contractor that there were repeated problems with the HVAC system and that the building’s air conditioning wasn’t working again because a pipe carrying fluid had burst. Heisz said that he felt it was necessary to check the glycol level in the system when its refilled to make sure the right amount is in the system and that it hasn’t been diluted by constantly adding water every time the system has leaked.

Weiser agreed and said the system’s glycol level would be checked on Wednesday, when the system is repaired by Schneider Heating and Air Conditioning.

“We’re taking care of that problem,” Weiser said. He noted the payment was due three or four months ago and that the contractor was waving any interest due and just wanted to be paid.

“It’s a little crazy, we’re financing your project,” Weiser said.

There was some discussion about a one-year warranty on the HVAC system. Weiser said the year was over. Heisz asked when the year started since the system has repeatedly failed in its first year.

Ultimately, Heisz made a motion seconded by Aaron Fortney to pay the money to Weiser if Gays Mills Director of Public Works Jim Chellevold certifies the air conditioning system is up and working on Wednesday and the glycol solution in the system is at the correct level.

The first item of new business on the agenda also involved flood recovery issues. Community Development Alternatives, the Prairie du Chien-based consulting firm that has assisted the village with administering and accounting for the Community Development Block Grants and other funds used in the various projects, turned over the documents and accounting work done to this point.

CDA Executive Director Dale Klemme told the board the firm had kept track of the money and payments for the village and twice completed billing for the work. However, he said they would cease doing the work going forward because CouleeCap, which works with CDBG-funded projects had taken the entire 10 percent of the grants designated for administration of the grants and therefore should in fact, be doing the work CDA was doing.

Klemme did not see the necessity of the village having his firm do the work, if CouleeCap was already funded for administration of the grant.

It was agreed a special board meeting would be held at the end of June to discuss the situation and reach an agreement on how it will be handled. Kaitfors, the state employee overseeing the CDBG funds, requested that he be advised of the date so he could attend.

In other business, the Gays Mills Village Board:

• heard a report from Henley, the recovery coordinator, on directional signage for the village that will soon be installed

• agreed to pay $4,000 for a gravel driveway for access to property owned by Dr. Richard Dudgeon near property that he sold to the village for a flood recovery relocation site

• approved paying $500 for the installation of a time clock on the village siren

• acknowledged they were aware of the potential for a conflict of interest with village employee Maura Otis trying to acquire a flood buyout property adjoining her own property, but were ready to go ahead with the sale being proposed

• approved a land lease for a property owned by the village at 111 State Highway 171 to neighbor Joe Klekamp

• agreed to allow the Last Call Bar to use a village-owned property at 304 Main Street as a volleyball court