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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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City Committee Rejects Petition for Detachment

At an hour long meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 25, Peshtigo City Council's Judiciary Committee unanimously rejected an appeal from property owners in a somewhat isolated corner of the city for detachment from the city and attachment to the Town of Peshtigo. Final decision will be up to the full council at its next regular meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 7.

They also approved some relatively minor final changes to the lease agreement for T.O.P. Dog Park to build and operate a dog park on city owned property in the Town of Peshtigo.

The properties requested for detachment from the city are located south of the Hwy. 41 by-pass in a corner of the city that is not directly accessible via city street since the new highway was constructed.

Petition for detachment from the city was presented to City Council in December and was referred to the Judiciary Committee.

Petitioners are property owners Louise Bayer, John Bayer, Eugene Frank, Trygee Rhude on behalf of Sentinel Structures, and Brian Olsen. All but Olsen were present for Tuesday's committee meeting, along with committee members Brigitte Schmidt, Jillian Schutte and Chair Mary Lock, plus Mayor Cathi Malke, City Attorney David Spangenberg, Police Chief Joe FitzGerald, City Clerk Vicki Koronkiewicz, and T.O.P. Dog Park representatives Jerry Hansen and Sue Cota.

At the start of the meeting Lock said they had pretty much already heard all of the discussions but would allow the petitioners five minutes to present their arguments.

Frank, the first to speak, said he only owns a pond on the property involved, "but if we had a house, we would be pretty concerned." He said they have no city fire protection, the town does the snow plowing, there is no city water or sewer available, and taxes are lower in the town.

Louise Bayer echoed those arguments, and she does have a home and a number of acres there, which she described as mostly swamp. She said because of the highway, they would never be able to get city water and sewer to their property. In 2009, after the bypass was built, Bayer had petitioned for detachment from the city in order to keep animals on their 17-acre property.

John Bayer pointed out there are only five real property owners in the affected area, and everyone of them has signed the petition. The sixth owner is the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, which owns just over half an acre and did not sign the petition. He said the law requires three quarters of the owners to petition for withdrawal from the city, and the percentage here is nearly 100 percent. He added that the land is mainly swamp, and because of the location the city will never be able to drain it.

Spangenberg explained they need signatures of three quarters of the property owners to file a petition, "but that doesn't mean it gets passed....that is up to the governing body." He said the recommendation from the Judiciary Committee would go to the full city council. If council votes to deny the petition, it's done. If council votes to allow detachment, the request to attach the property goes to the Town of Peshtigo. If they accept, the transaction will be done, upon provision of legal descriptions of the properties involved. If the town refuses, the properties stay part of the city.

"We have other areas that also do not have city water and sewer," Lock commented, using Dishaw Ave. as an example. "If we allow this, are we setting a precedent that can then be followed by many?"

John Bayer argued that the properties on Dishaw can be accessed directly from the city, while theirs cannot. He repeated that the city can never run sewer there.

Schutte disputed that. She said the city can run sewer and water under the highway.

As to snow plowing, Malke said the city has an agreement with the Town that whoever gets there first does the plowing. She added that the city has plowed there several times already this winter.

Schutte was concerned about loss of tax base because Sentinel Structures is there. Rhude assured her their factory is not located on the south side of the highway, only a small vacant piece of their land, which is taxed at $207 a year. He added in no way would they want their manufacturing facility to be detached from the city. "We have sewer and water and nearby fire protection... There would be no reason for us to want to detach."

Schutte asked why they didn't sell the 1.5 acre parcel and Rhude said they would have a much better chance of selling if it was in the town. Louise Bayer said she has been trying to sell some of her land for years without success.

Motion to disapprove the detachment was made by Lock, seconded by Schmidt and approved by Schutte. Council is expected to act on the recommendation on Feb. 7.

Moving on the the dog park lease, Spangenberg said he had sent a copy of changes he proposed to Atty. Mike Palid, legal counsel for the group, but had received no response.

He noted the dog group wanted a 5-year lease with a 5-year renewal, but felt for free use of the property, this committee should not tie the hands of a council five years from now.

Also, he noted the T.O.P group wants to charge day use and membership fees, and commented, "Since we're giving it free, we don't feel you should make money from it." He added if they were just charging enough to cover development and operating expenses there would be no problem, but suggested an annual accounting to be sure no profits were involved.

Cota said they are working on plans and getting estimates for development costs, including fence and parking lot, and are working on an operating budget. They will be doing some fund raising to get started. Opening of the park could be a year to two years in the future, but once the lease is signed they will need to start paying on their liability insurance.

Lock said they were hoping that annually the city could get their budget and annual financial reports to keep on file with the city as public record. Cota and Hansen said this should be no problem.

Schmidt, who is a member of the dog park group, wondered if she had missed something. She said she understood from the start that there was no charge from the city, and that the dog park would charge for annual memberships and day use, much like the city charges for use of its boat landings. She said there will be expenses, and particularly with the insurance they are required to provide they could not function without income.

Lock had understood they would charge for memberships but not for day use.

Hansen and Cota both said there would be memberships which allow regular use, as well as day use fees for non-members. Those who are members would vote at monthly meetings, and elect officers at the annual meeting, "including me." He is founder of the group and serves now as president, but will be subject to election like all other officers.

Schmidt noted as a non-profit corporation they also would need to file income reports with the state.

Next came discussion on how rules that all dogs in the fenced-in park will need to be licensed and insured will be enforced.

The park will be open, but much of the time there will be no one on duty. There will be random checks, Cota said. Schmidt commented dogs are allowed in other city parks on leashes, and they too need to be licensed and insured, but most of the time no one checks for proof. "The only difference is here there's a fence instead of a leash."

Hansen said under state law, liability is "dog owner versus dog owner," with the provider left out of the equation. His group's liability is for the structures - fences, benches, etc. and maintenance of the grounds under their care. They have $1 million liability insurance coverage in a policy obtained through Bob Bemis Insurance and the city is listed as co-insured.

Lock was concerned about "the deep pockets syndrome." Spangenberg felt the city would be protected if their lease says no dogs without proper immunization, and it is left to the leasees to enforce that.

Next issue was who will own the fencing, benches, etc. should the lease be terminated. Hansen said their group will be spending about $15,000 on the fence, and would like to take it with them if the park ever has to move. Lock and others felt that would be no problem provided they restore the property to its original condition and do not leave pot holes and other hazards.

Schutte said she could see it both ways. If the improvements must be left, the city would benefit from allowing free use of the property in exchange for the improvements, but the dog group could use the fence in a new location.

Spangenberg is to put the agreed-upon changes in writing and send the lease to the dog group for final approval. Hansen said their attorney has already okayed the proposed changes.

In other business, Schmidt asked how the building inspector is to enforce code violations.

Koronkiewicz said the building inspector is to refer them to the police department for citations, since they are ordinance violations. Spangenberg agreed. He said he had spoken about this with the building inspector. However, if the violation is not corrected and it becomes a condemnation issue, then he would get involved as city attorney, and the sheriff's department would also get involved. He added the Town of Peshtigo has some similar situations where the town wants properties cleaned up and he is waiting to see what happens.


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