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Village seeks to avoid overpayment liability
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The Gays Mills Village Board met on Monday, Sept. 12 to cover a lengthy agenda, with the legal procedure for business property buyouts and relocation taking up a sizeable portion of the lengthy meeting.

On May 13, the village was notified by the Wisconsin Department of Commerce that their procedures had not been followed correctly, creating liability for the village should any buyout payment using Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds be deemed an overpayment.

According to  commerce official Karen Stone the correct procedure was to first issue a Letter of Intent to Purchase followed by an appraisal and a review appraisal to determine the offer. At that point, if the board chose to make a final review, that was the time to do so, before issuing the Statement of Just Compensation with the offer to the property owner. If the owner accepted the offer, the board must then issue a final approval.

Gays Mills Village Board president Craig Anderson began the discussion by referencing the May letter and expressing the recommendation of the finance committee that proposed buyouts be brought to the board before the Statement of Just Compensation so that the board can make sure the paperwork is in order and avoid creating liability for the village.

Julie Henley, the Gays Mills Recovery and Development Coordinator, asked that she not be required to slow the process down by doing so at this point, as it would slow down funding disbursement and thus slow down construction at the Mercantile Center.

Stone recommended setting guidelines in which Julie can work without taking everything to the board before issuing the statement as an alternative.

“Small amounts won’t be an issue,” Stone said. “As long as the process is followed, the village will not be expected to repay overpayments.

“The process was not followed prior to May 13 so I hesitate to say the village is absolved of any overpayments before that date,” Stone said.

The issue of procedure provoked additional questions from board members, with trustee Kevin Murray asking if a buyout could be halted prior to the statement of just compensation phase.

It was the opinion of Stone that the letter of intent could potentially be binding. Village Clerk Dawn McCann was assigned the task of speaking to the village lawyer to ascertain if that was the case.

The board approved the resolution that Henley bring buyouts back to the board prior to the issuance of the Statement of Just Compensation to ensure village nonliability.

The questions regarding legal aspects of the procedure has an immediate effect upon the purchase of the Bell property at 220 Main Street. The property was set for final approval for a buyout. The board delayed their decision by one week to allow time for questions to be answered raised both by the procedural question and preservation concerns raised by five local citizens.

The citizens asked the Village of Gays Mills Board to see if it were possible for the building to be bought from the village after the buyout in order to gain time to find some means of repurposing the structure.

“The long-term plan originally involved retaining two solid blocks of buildings, maintaining the character of the town,” Jennifer Nelson said. “We request the village consider a ‘stay-of-execution’ for this building.”

 The owners, Richard and Betty Bell, would like to be done with the property and move forward with their other plans of reinvesting the money from the buyout into a townhouse in the new town division.

“We have had the building for sale for ten years, unable to find a buyer,” Richard Bell explained. “Why didn’t folks come forward sooner?”