Town of Peshtigo Okays Audit, Delays Mercury Spill Decision
Over the objections of Town Chair Herman Pottratz the Town of Peshtigo's budget for 2017 will include $5,000 to pay for an outside audit of the town's financial records. That and other budget items will be discussed at a special budget workshop session of the town board at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 25. The town's annual budget hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 15, immediately prior to the regular monthly town board meeting where it will be adopted.
Also scheduled for the Nov. 15 meeting is discussion with Town Attorney David Spangenberg on what options the town has, if any, for dealing with a $15,407 special assessment for a mercury splill cleanup against the home at W1974 Hwy. 64 that belonged to the late Dennis Enderby and now is believed to belong to his daughter, Diana Grant.
There had been a mercury spill in the garage of Enderby's home that was discovered when he was being taken to a hospital in January of 2015.
Since the spill was considered a human health hazard County Health Nurse Mary Rosner and others had the spill cleaned up by the hazmat team and a private contractor without obtaining competitive bids. After his release from the hospital Enderby was lodged at a local motel before being allowed to return home. Rosner originally estimated the cleanup cost at $8,000, but the total ended up being more than $50,000. Work was done by a private hazardous waste contractor who charged by the pound. The contractor was hired and eventually was paid by the county.
At the time Enderby contributed $10,000, which Grant claimed they had been told would be the total cost of cleaning up the spill, but was unwilling or unable to pay the total cost. Enderby died in April and the property went to Grant, who claimed its value is about $40,000. The county obtained a grant to help pay for the cleanup, but after the grant proceeds and Enderby's $10,000 the $15,407 balance remained.
The county cannot put special tax lien assessments against properties, but towns can. On June 21 of this year, with town board approval, Clerk Clarence Coble signed a memorandum of understanding with Marinette County in which they agreed to place a lien as a special tax against the property "at the earliest possible date" to add the special taxes.
The memorandum of understanding includes a paragraph in which the county acknowledges that the town may be unable to collect the entire special tax and agrees the town is only responsible to pay the county monies collected as a special tax.
The town board had subsequently discussed ways to soften the effect on Grant and her family, and had considered allowing them to pay the assessment off in annual amounts.
Supervisor Mark Monnette said at the meeting on Oct. 18 that he had talked with Grant about making payments and that option is now off the table. He felt it was more that she does not feel they should have been charged that much, rather than that they cannot afford to pay. She is protesting the entire procedure used for the cleanup and hiring the firm that did it, and is working with attorneys and state legislators.
Pottratz suggested the town put the $15,407 as a lien against the property to be collected when the property is sold.
"You signed a memorandum of understanding with the county on June 24 to put the entire amount on the tax roll in January," Coble reminded them, and read the entire memorandum of understanding.
Monnette agreed placing the assessment on the coming year's tax was the only option available to them. That would mean if unpaid the county will own the property in three years.
"They killed the guy, that's what they did, and that's a shame," declared Pottratz. He suggested putting the item on the agenda for the board's Nov. 15 meeting, and asking Spangenberg to be there to discuss options with them a second time. Monnette somewhat hesitantly seconded Pottratz' motion to do that, and Supervisor Dan Van Beek also voted in favor. Supervisors Denise Wiedemeier and Dan Staudenmaier did not.
At the start of the meeting the board amended the agenda to allow Budde Fifarek to explain a pending offer to purchase a 41-foot piece of property the town owns adjacent to the home of Bob Harbick on Shore Drive. The property, owned by the town since 1941, has a sign stating it is a town boat landing. The Harbicks now want to sell the home and Jeffery and Theresa Thompson want to buy it, but they are concerned about access across the town owned parcel, Fifarek said, so they want to buy that too. He said Spangenberg had advised him he should talk to the town board in regard to the possible offer.
Pottratz said anything the town would sell would have to go out on bids, and could be done only after a public hearing, but he doubted the people would want to sell it. Selling had been proposed and soundly rejected when it came up years ago.
Fifarek said he had spoken with neighbors up and down Shore Drive and all of them were in favor of the town selling the parcel, since it is very near the nice county boat landing at Little River.
Pottratz said he personally didn't think it would go anywhere, but the offer could come to the town board at the Nov. 15 meeting, "it's a board decision."
Fifarek said the town has not been maintaining the boat landing property, but voices from the audience disagreed with him.
Fifarek said he will present the offer in November.
Prior to his monthly financial report, Town Treasurer Vilas Schroeder said he had already transferred $300,000 to pay expenses this year, and now the budget has been overspent and he has to transfer in $66,000 to pay the bills.
"What's pushing us over?" asked Wiedemeier. She noted they had transferred $90,000 last month.
Schroeder said the road maintenance budget was $200,000 and they had spent $220,000. He presented a list of account transfers, areas in which income and spending were either under or over budget. He suggested they take $75,000 from the roads budget, "because that's where most of it goes."
Wiedemeier agreed most of it went for roads, "for example culverts that were put in without board approval."
Pottratz was concerned about keeping enough money in the road maintenance budget for snow plowing. Schroeder said there would be $69.000 left for that, which should be enough to last until the end of the year.
Financial report shows the town has $381,591 in general investments, and Pottratz suggested taking the $75,000 from general reserves.
"We don't have an endless amount of money to spend on projects that don't go to this board," Wiedemeier protested. She said that would be giving "the person who makes the decisions an open check book."
Eventually the board agreed Schroeder should take the money from road reserves and make that account whole again when the state shared revenue payment comes in.
"We're not broke," Pottratz declared.
In his chairman's report Pottratz reminded everyone to get out and vote for the Nov. 8 elections.
Coble said people have been voting by absentee ballot in the town office since Sept. 27, and the last day for absentee voting there is Friday, Nov. 4, when the office will be open from 2 to 5 p.m. They are also open on Tuesdays and Thursdays and are happy to help people vote, Coble said. There have already been 165 absentee ballots cast.
Next on the agenda was "need for an audit of Town finances." Pottratz felt there was no need. He said Coble had found minutes from 2014 when the town board decided to not have the outside audit done.
Schroeder said he would like to have it in the budget to get an audit done, "as a taxpayer I would want that." He said he also would like assurance that he is properly tracking town use of state and federal funds.
"I think our taxpayers have that right," Wiedemeier argued.
Pottratz felt they did not need to spend the $5,000, and said he would rather give it to the rescue squad or throw it out the window.
"You can spend $90,000 but you don't want the taxpayers to know where this board is spending or saving money," Wiedemeier lashed.
Schroeder repeated he would like the audit to be sure he is doing things correctly, "for peace of mind for everyone, including the public."
Pottratz suggested withholding action until the budget workshop meeting, but Monnette moved to have Schroeder put in the $5,000 when he prepares the tentative budget, and after a second from Wiedemeier that motion was approved with Pottratz casting the sole dissenting vote.
Pottratz said the town will have to do some shouldering on Frontage Road and the county will complete ditching along Keller Road and do shouldering on other roads as needed for about $2,000.
He said the DNR had taken a bulldozer to its boat landing off Hwy. BB and saved the cost of gravel.
There was brief discussion but no action suggested on a communications tower put up by Wisconsin Public Service. Coble said the tower is for private use of WPS, and FAA had given the go-ahead for the 180 foot tower. A building permit was properly obtained. It is a free standing tower with no guy wires.
Asked how things are going at the county level, Schroeder, who represents a portion of the town on County Board, said the old jail adjacent to the courthouse "is a dead horse and no matter how many times you kick it, it's not going to get up and move."
Wiedemeier suggested since Marinette County does not have an animal shelter they should convert the building to that use, "but it would take a little tweaking. Pottratz felt the proposed new roof there is about the size of the one put on the town hall recently for $165,000. Schroeder said he wouldn't spend $40,000 on that building.
Pottratz commented that as expressed at the recent Just Fix It meeting, other towns in the county have serious problems finding enough money to maintain their roads, but the Town of Peshtigo is in good shape.
VanBeek reported the building at the Recycling Center should be completed in November. It will cover the compactors and provide a place for workers there to keep warm. There were comments that the Center is so busy the workers will rarely be sitting down any way.
Wiedemeier agreed it has been busy. She praised Van Beek for doing a good job, and said she has gone there to clean several times.
Monnette mentioned "a mess" there and suggested hiring people to clean up. Wiedemeier agreed perhaps they need another person. There were also suggestions to have someone come in to clean when the center is closed. No action was taken.
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