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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Audit Shows Peshtigo In Strong Financial Position

Issue Date: July 8, 2020

"You're certainly in a strong (financial) position as you move into the 2020 budget year," Accountant David Maccoux declared in his 2019 audit report to Peshtigo City Council at its meeting on Tuesday, July 7, presented on behalf of the accounting firm of CliftonLarsonAllen, LLP of Green Bay.

At the start of the meeting Mayor Cathi Malke congratulated the Peshtigo High School Class of 2020 on its graduation activities on Thursday, July 2, and declared their parade "was awesome." She and Alderman Archer Leupp expressed particular thanks to Peshtigo Fire Department and Fire Chief Chuck Gardon for helping greatly with the success of the parade.

Other major action at the meeting included accepting the resignation of Parks and Recreation Director Shawn Northrop, conditional approval of a Class B beer license for Christopher Schmidt to operate an outdoor beer garden at Peshtigo Stone and Garden, LLC at 800 Frontage Road in the city's industrial park, and strong statements from two city residents strongly opposed to allowing chickens in the city and concerned about speeding on their streets, a bumpy railroad crossing, and maintenance of yards and properties.

After the vote accepting Northrop's resignation, Mayor Cathi Malke declared she was sad to see him leave. "In the short time he's been here, he's done a lot for this city," she declared.

Northrop's last day on the job will be Monday, July 27. On his resignation letter to Malke he said the decision to leave had not been easy. He promised between now and July 27 he will ensure that all ongoing projects, planned projects and planned events are organized and able to proceed past his departure.

In the audit report, Maccoux noted the city's total general fund balance grew from $2.720 million at the end of 2018 to $2.999 million at the end of 2019, a result of returning $279,000 to the general fund from the 2019 budget. Both expenditures and income exceeded budgeted amounts in several budget areas, with excess income more than covering excess expenditures. "This means city officials did a sound job of monitoring the budget," Maccoux said.

With special revenue funds included, the city's total governmental fund balance grew from $4.736 million to nearly $5.238 million.

The unassigned general fund portion of that total grew from $1.352 million at the end of 2018 to $1.558 million at the end of 2019, while the non-lapsing fund portion grew from $1.352 million to $1.423 million.

"You really need that for cash flow purposes," Maccoux said of the city's $1.4 million carry-over unassigned general fund balance. This balance represents 70 percent of the city's budgeted general fund expenditures, excluding capital outlay paid from non-lapsing funds. A significant carry-over is needed because approximately 39 percent of the annual revenue comes from the state shared tax payment in November and expenditures must be covered until then.

The water and sewer utilities, reported as business-type activities, both had positive results for the year, as did the UDAG and WDF revolving loan funds.

The water utility rate of return was 1.75 percent, slightly exceeding the 1.5 percent authorized by the state Public Service Commission, and the utility saw a $61,640 growth in its net financial position. Transfers out included a $121,362 property tax equivalent payment to the city. Maccoux said the positive result was mainly due to managing costs related to operating that utility. He noted that the TIF District, which has now been dissolved, paid much of the costs related to the water utility, "and with the closing of the TIF you may need to raise rates at some point."

The sewer utility revenues for the year again exceeded outgo, with an $80,723 increase in net position, which was slightly below the $88,660 net increase earned in 2018. Operating income for 2019 was $121,155, with revenues of $1,026,038 million and expenses of $904,883.

The city's equity in Wisconsin Retirement System program had gone from a positive last year to a slight negative this year, as a result of income changes at the state level. Peshtigo is fully paid to cover retirees, but the negative balance would become a real liability should they decide to pull out, Maccoux said.

Other than that, "It's all positive news on financial results for the city," Maccoux declared. He said the audit had gone well, with full cooperation of city personnel and no disagreements or concerns.

Keith Klimek , who lives near the intersection of Pine Street and Beebe Ave., declared he is adamantly opposed to allowing raising of chickens in the city. He said chickens will draw snakes, raccoons and rats, and asked if city refuse workers would be tasked with disposing of their feces. He said speeding has been rampant on Pine Street and vehicles of all sorts regularly rev up to 50 miles per hour within two blocks. On the previous weekend he had witnessed an accident at the intersection.

He said enforcing grass cutting rules is an ongoing problem each year, often involving the same property owners, and asked what is being done about it.

He also objected to unmaintained buildings, and wondered how long a building can have with just ty-vac on the outside, commenting he felt five years is long enough.

He also asked if something can be done about a bumpy unused railroad crossing in the middle of block.

After the meeting City Public Works Director George Cowell said BPM still owns the crossing and the city cannot just go in there and tear it out unless the mill is willing to give it up. He feels that might be unlikely, since once a crossing is gone it is almost impossible to get it back.

Next speaker was Katie Berman, who lives with her husband Seth and their two children in the original Berman family home on North Cranberry Ave. Berman said she is a Peshtigo native, has lived in this city nearly all her life, and intends to keep living here. "We are the fourth generation living in the house my husband's family built," she declared.

She too was very concerned about all the speeding and noise on Pine street "that continues all day and all night." She said there are many children in the neighborhood besides hers, and she is concerned for their safety. She said the speeders are not just the young kids with the trucks, it's all sorts of vehicles, and sometimes even semis.

She also agreed with Klimek about poorly maintained yards and buildings, and is adamantly opposed to chickens in the city. "I know how much damage they can do if they get out,' she said, and asked who would be liable if they did get out and destroyed gardens and landscaping. "I don't want chickens and I don't want my neighbors to have chickens," she declared. She wondered if they are permitted, would they need licenses as dogs do, and also asked who would enforce keeping their droppings cleaned up. "I have no problem chasing people down my block with their doggy doo," she declared.

She said in some cases, lawns are mowed but weeds along fence lines and buildings are growing four feet high, and wondered if there are laws against that.

"I'm here, I've got a big stake in this game, and I know some of my neighbors are not going to be sticking around as long as I am," Berman concluded.

Council accepted the resignation of Firefighter Michael Erhart and approved request of Gardon to hire Jacob Rohde to replace him. Malke commented it is exciting that the new firefighter is following in his father's footsteps and she is glad his father, Assistant Fire Chief Chris Rohde, "has passed along his enthusiasm for the fire department."

Long discussion preceded unanimous approval of the beer garden license for Peshtigo Stone and Garden, with Alderman Debbie Sievert absent. That approval came after addition of a provision requested by Alderman Brigitte Schmidt requiring that the city name someone to inspect the premise to be sure all license conditions set by the Plan Commission have been met before the license goes into effect.

Conditions include provision of restrooms with flush toilets and running water, but for this year that can be done with what owner Christopher Schmidt described as "a luxury toilet trailer." The beer garden is to be built and fenced in accord with plans presented by Schmidt at long, long meetings of both the Plan Commission and the License and Police Committee, space is to be constructed for secure storage of alcoholic beverages and needed paperwork, and parking space is to be constructed for 40 vehicles. The beer garden will be allowed to operate between the hours of 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. during the week and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends, but only after the facility is approved by the state for serving intoxicating beverages and passing the required commercial building requirements. The license is being issued only to Schmidt and his wife and cannot be passed along to new owners should someone else purchase the LLC.

Bartender license renewals were approve for Renee Ann Demmith, Jeanne Lynn Gillespe, Cynthia M. Kloida, Hannah Ruth Lemke, Michelle Lee Mech, Lauera Leagh Prestine, Brittany Elizabeth Schaden John Douglas Sutton and Kevin Darrelle Walters, and a new bartender license was approved for Olivia Lee Tabares.

Sale of the Parks and Rec Department lawn mower to high bidder Terry Stibbe for $1,800.49 was approved, as was sale of the old sweeper to Alderman Rick Berth for his high bid of $50. Berth abstained from voting on this sale.

Before the meeting adjourned Leupp asked for a discussion on the lawn cutting issues and on brush and lawn clippings that still are being deposited on city property on the north side of Badger Park.

Cowell said he and his department typically canvass the city shortly after Memorial Day to see which lawns need to be cut. They send out three rounds of letters giving owners a specified number of days to get the lawns cut. He said this year the letters were late getting out due to conflict with payday work, but once they were sent all but three of the lawns were cut. A second mailing went to those owners, but two vacant lots with long grass were overlooked. Berth said last yes he cut those two lots for the city, one on Emery and one on Peck. Cowell agreed it sometimes is the same offenders year after year. He said if the city has to cut the laws the cost is for time spent on the work plus a $50 administrative fee. The city can go in and cut seven days after the letter is sent.

Schmidt asked if they cut weeds too, noting the problem with tall weeds sometimes where lawns are mowed.

Everyone seemed to agree that perhaps the city should put more "teeth" into the mowing and maintenance ordinance.

Cowell felt they already do a really good job keeping things cut. He told the Council that his department is three people short this year due to a retirement and no summer help because of coronavirus.

As to lawn clippings and brush on city property, everything was cleaned up by May 15 when his crew discontinues that pickup service for the summer, so problems now are more of an enforcement issue. He said even people who do not live near Badger Park come and drop things off here. The proper place to bring yard debris is the compost site at the city garage.


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PO Box 187
Peshtigo, WI 54157
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