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Petition stops school land purchase

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New Richmond, 54017
New Richmond Wisconsin 127 South Knowles Avenue 54017

The people have spoken. Again.

A petition has been filed halting the attempt of the Somerset Board of Education to purchase the 69-acre tract of land that borders the current Somerset School District property.

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A petition was filed last Friday by Ron Baillargeon against the purchase of the property. There were only 326 signatures required on the petition, but when Baillargeon brought in the petition, it contained 381 signatures. He said that in the days following the filing, he had more signatures come in that would have pushed the total over 400 signatures.

The school board clerk reviewed the petition document Monday night and found that it was sufficient to meet the state election board guidelines.

The school board has been trying to purchase the 69 acres from the DeCosse family despite the fact that a referendum in August to purchase the land was voted down by district residents. This followed a failed referendum last April that would have allowed to purchase the land, plus paid for two new school buildings.

The board has been trying to purchase the land through a Note Anticipation Note (NAN). This method would have used district operating funds to pay the interest on the land purchase over the next five years. During that time, the school board would have had the time to decide whether they were going to need all the land, keep part of the land, or sell off all of the land. The final purchase of the land would have had to pass in a referendum for the district to keep the land.

Baillargeon said this petition is a one-issue petition. He said it isn't necessarily against the purchase of the land. It is against how the board acted after the district voters directed them to not purchase the land.

"Do we need the land later? None of that was an issue," Baillargeon said of the petition. "There were 381 people who said (the board) didn't do the right thing."

$10,000 earnest money lost

One of the immediate losses from the petition was the school district losing $10,000 in non-refundable earnest money that it had given to the DeCosse family to start the purchase process.

This may also be the last chance that the school district has to purchase the DeCosse property. School district administrator Randy Rosburg said the DeCosse family is now considering making this property available to developers.

The school board is now mulling its options before deciding how to proceed. The board has two options. It can end its pursuit of the DeCosse property or see if the DeCosse family is interested in renegotiating another deal on the land. This would be where the ramifications of the petition kick in.

If the board does decide to attempt another purchase of the DeCosse property, it could only be done through a referendum. Rosburg said that referendum would likely be held in either February or April.

Civics lesson

Baillargeon said most of the petition signers he talked to said the actions of the school board went against the wishes of the majority of district residents.

"You tell kids that your vote is important, but the board didn't listen to the voters," Baillargeon said. "I can't in my wildest dreams think that they would go back to referendum on the same piece of property."

Baillargeon said he is now getting out of politics and he will not become a candidate for the school board.

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