SOLDIERS GROVE - With the hills obligingly donning their colors in the intense, beautiful sunlight of September, beauty was in the air in Soldiers Grove, just in time for the Driftless Art Festival.
At the Soldiers Grove Village Board meeting, held Thursday, Sept. 14, the board seemed to have caught the beauty vibe, taking up numerous issues that will result in beautification, or needed improvements to village infrastructure. Public safety and finance also featured prominently on the agenda.
The village square, which is the grassy area between the north and south portions of the Solar Village, will get a nostalgic update to the lighting. Based on a photo of ‘Old Downtown Grove’ in the 1930s, lights have been selected for installation this autumn that will provide 36 watt LED illumination in the area. Thirty-six watt is equivalent to a light bulb between 100-150 watts.
The lights will be installed on top of 10-foot poles, with bright blue banners welcoming visitors to Soldiers Grove, and a bright image of a sun as a nod to the village’s name, ‘Solar Village.’
The board voted to spend a total of $15,042 on the project. The balance in the room tax account will cover $13,800 and the remaining funds will come from future room tax payments.
The total amount includes electrical work in the amount of $6,500 and the balance in fixtures, banners and equipment. Of the two bids submitted by McCormick Electric ($9,400) and Forkash Electric ($6,500), the board decided to go with the lowest bid. The Forkash bid will utilize new wiring as opposed to retrofitting existing wiring. For a retrofit, both bids cited a higher price.
Soldiers Grove Librarian Cele Wolf appeared for the Public Input section of the agenda, and asked the board to consider ways to manage the vegetation in front of the community center and library.
“It has gotten out of control, and is beyond my ability to take care of it,” Wolf said. “I never really notice it, but lately we’ve been having busloads of tourists visiting the village, and it was then that I realized how unsightly the area had become.”
While Wolf initially proposed a cost share between the village and the library to pay for maintenance, the board quickly arrived at a more expedient decision. The plan is to clear the area entirely, and then replace the existing vegetation with wood chips and easy-to-maintain perennial plantings.
The library area will also be improved with the addition of a ‘Little Free Library’ in the near future. A local 4-H student from the Carstens family has received permission from the board to install the already-built structure on village property in consultation with Wolf.
Safety was another big topic at the meeting. Volunteer Fire Department Chief Ben Clason again took up the issue of the department’s aging fleet with the board. Clason reported that the department’s brush truck is currently not up to par, and that other vehicles in the fleet are going to be aging out. He expressed concern that some of the vehicles may start to fail to meet standards.
“We cannot put the brush truck in reverse on a hill,” Clason reported. “I’ve applied for an FFP grant to cover half the cost of replacing the vehicle, and I expect to hear back about the grant in mid-October.”
Clason reported that he had applied for the FFP grant for the purchase of the less expensive vehicle, because other grants such as FEMA grants will pay up to 95 percent of a purchase. Clason said he prefers to use the higher dollar and percentage grant applications to pursue purchase of higher ticket items, such as a needed new pumper truck which could cost the department as much as $250,000.
Clason solicited multiple bids for replacement of the brush truck, and reported to the board he favored the one from Sleepy Hollow for a 2018 Chevy. With all of the needed equipment and upgrades, the purchase price for the custom-built truck would come to approximately $70,000. Clason reported that even without the grant, there is currently more than $90,000 in the department’s truck fund.
The board agreed to place the issue of whether or not to purchase a new brush truck on an upcoming meeting agenda. Clason shared that his goal is to have the new truck in the fleet before springtime.
Clason was pleased to announce that after the recent article that appeared in the ‘Crawford County Independent’ about the need for more volunteers for the department, he’d already added one person to the roster.
The board also approved repair of the village’s dump truck. The truck is currently experiencing a problem with its power steering.
The board also agreed to repair a washed out culvert on Motsinger Road, which is causing problems for motorists, and near a school bus route. The rock around the culvert is washed out, and is in danger of undermining the roadbed. Digger Don will be retained for the work.
Pedestrian safety also came before the board when they decided to repair the wooden board surface of the Sannes Footbridge in the Village. President Steve George reported that he had inspected the bridge and discovered that the boards on both ends of the footbridge are rotting, and the ones in the middle are cracked.
“A lot of people use that footbridge,” Vicki Campbell observed. “We need to get that fixed as soon as possible and ensure that no pedestrian could be injured while using the bridge.”
The village will purchase treated lumber and replace the boards before winter.
Clason also reminded the board of certain needed repairs to the fire department building. Village president George agreed to lead an inspection of issues with the building and report back to the board at their next meeting.
Finance, it seems, is always an important issue for the board, and last Thursday’s meeting was no exception.
For several years, the village has had a property on Helgerson Road listed for sale. Though the offer considered at the meeting of $75,000 was somewhat less than their asking price, the board agreed to accept the offer with the stipulation that the buyer would pay all closing costs.
“We need to stipulate that the buyer will pay closing costs in order to ensure that the village receives the full $75,000 amount,” Campbell said.
Campbell reviewed the current dollar amounts in each of the village’s CDC accounts, and reported that the only second quarter room tax payments remaining in arrears are for the Old Oak Inn and the Roth House. She submitted a check in the amount of $3,072.20 for signature, which is the donation to the Driftless Art Festival, representing 15 percent of room tax dollars collected.
Campbell reported that the village had received an additional $200 payment on one outstanding loan, and that Driftless Brewing was making their loan payments on time.
Fire chief Clason reported that the department is purchasing new pagers and looking to retire some of their aging communications equipment.
Clason also reported he is in conversations with village attorney Phil Stittleberg about the legalities around billing village and township resident’s insurance companies for services rendered. Clason pointed out that many homeowner insurance policies include coverage for fire department services.
Campbell pointed out that in other communities, there is a surcharge on customers’ water and sewer billing intended to cover payment for fire department services. Clason pointed out that this would not cover residents in the townships who received services.
The board agreed to continue to research the issue, and to consider as well a modest across-the-board increase in rates for providing fire department coverage that would impact both village and township residents. This will be a topic on an upcoming meeting agenda.
The North Crawford Summer Recreation program will be the recipient of a $750 donation from the Village of Soldiers Grove.
In other discussion of recreation, Linda Coleman’s request to reserve 10 campsites for a 2018 family reunion was not approved.
“I feel somewhat conflicted about this,” Campbell said, “We definitely appreciate and want their business. But it is a logistical problem for the village, and if we do it for them, then we would have to do it for everyone.”
The board agreed with Campbell’s sentiments, and decided that the village would call Coleman and encourage the family to send someone down early to mark off their family’s preferred area with yellow tape or some such mechanism.
Village Clerk Tamera Kepler is familiar with listing used or no longer needed equipment for sale on a surplus website. She has been tasked by the board to list certain used office equipment, air conditioners, and miscellaneous fire department equipment to see what dollars the village could realize from their sale.