SOLDIERS GROVE - The Village of Soldier Grove voted to ask their auditing firm Johnson Block & Company to commission a utility rate study by the Public Service Commission (PSC).
In the company’s audit report for the year ended December 31, 2019, the following observation and comment was submitted on the ‘Trend in Utility Net Position’ page;
“The utilities have undertaken capital projects and have not had a full rate adjustment for some time. We recommend consideration be given to filing a rate increase application with the PSC that would allow the Water Utility to earn its allowed rate of return. The Sewer Fund should look at a more significant rate increase than in prior years.”
This comment also appeared in the company’s report for the year that ended December 31, 2018. And as village board president Paul Nicholson observed, “this is nothing new.”
“This has been the same scenario I have seen for the entire eight years I have sat on this board,” Nicholson said. “Budget-wise, the village is doing okay, but we have all watched the trend line on our general fund balance going in the wrong direction every year – in another three years, our general fund will be gone.”
Nicholson observed that the water utility had a profit last year, but the sewer fund lost money again. This resulted in a $65,000 net loss. This situation, according to Nicholson, is the main reason for the declining trend line in the village’s general fund.
“I agree with you,” village trustee Shayne Chapman said. “We need to do the PSC study, and we need to explain the situation with the general fund to our residents, so they will understand why we need to do this.”
Chapman observed that in 2014, the village’s general fund had a balance of $500,000, and in 2020 the balance had declined to $200,000.
After discussion, the board moved to ask Johnson Block to commission the utility rate study for the village.
The board was presented with a sticky situation at their July 9 meeting about the sale of a five-acre property to the Big Buck Rod and Gun Club. It had come to light that the property, which is really an 11-acre property, had never been surveyed to demarcate the five-acre property in question. The additional six acres are swampland.
Without a survey, it is not possible for the village to transfer the land. The cost of having the property surveyed would be prohibitive, and would mean that the price of $500, agreed upon and paid, would not be adequate. The low price originally agreed upon was contingent upon agreement that if the Rod & Gun Club should cease to exist the property would revert to the village. It was also understood that the property would continue to be available to the village for spreading of their sewage sludge.
Steve George, representing the Rod & Gun Club, had offered to increase the price to $1,000 at the last meeting for the entire 11-acre property. This would allow both parties to avoid incurring the cost of a survey.
“The village needs to have access to that property to spread our sewage sludge,” Trustee Roy Davidson said. “If you [Steve George] were to leave the Rod & Gun Club, would we still have access to the property?”
Paul Nicholson asked George if he would be amenable to writing an agreement between the village and the Rod & Gun Club formalizing the village’s access to the land for the purpose of spreading sludge. Steve George indicated that he would agree to that.
George stated that the main reason that the club wanted to own the property was so they could put a gate up to prevent people from driving across the field when it is wet, and making ruts. The club also wants to be able to do maintenance work along the creek.
“Can’t the village just put a gate up to keep people from driving there, give the club their $500 back, and ensure that the village maintains control of the property and the right to spread our sludge there,” Davidson asked. “I can foresee a time in the future when the cost of land where we can spread our sludge will be dear.”
There was some more discussion, and it was agreed that the club could put up a gate, and perform the maintenance activities it wants to. The board voted to put something in writing to that effect, and also to agree that if, at some time in the future, the village decided to sell the property, the club would have the first right of refusal.
In addition, the board agreed to investigate the cost of gravelling the road so that the sludge truck could access the spreading area without making ruts.
In the public input at the beginning of the meeting, retiring librarian Cele Wolfe made an impassioned plea for the board not to eliminate the flower gardens in front of the library.
“I know it looks bad right now – the Crawford County Master Gardeners usually come every year and clean it up,” Wolfe said. “They haven’t been able to come this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Wolfe particularly asked that the Crabapple tree growing in front of the building be saved as it had been a donation from Bill Meyer of Kickapoo Orchard.
“The garden is a pollinator garden and an educational project,” Wolfe said. “I hope we can figure out a way to work together to make the garden work.”
Wolfe noted that this would be her last board meeting before her retirement on August 31. Sarah DiPadova will take over as the Soldiers Grove Librarian at that time.
Later in the meeting, the board took up the topic again.
“Frankly, I am sick of getting complaints about the garden in front of the library,” Nicholson said. “The flag pole in front of the library has broken off and needs to be repaired, and as it stands right now with the state of the garden, we can’t even find the base.
Trustee Vicki Campbell was quick to agree with Nicholson, and said, “I think it all needs to be cleaned out and redone, except we can leave the crabapple tree.”
The board voted to clean the whole area out after it freezes, leaving the crabapple tree but not the apple tree. The goal is to figure out a plan for the area by the spring.
In other business
In other business the board:
• learned that the old fire truck had sold for $3,650
• agreed that it was worth spending the money to ensure that the fire department radios were competently reprogrammed
• learned that the village would have at least a $2,350 expense to raise their utilities for the Highway 131 improvement project scheduled for 2025
• voted to make a $100 donation to Crawford County Clean Sweep• heard that the Public Works crew had been busy placing new signage in the campground area, and installing tubes on village roads.