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Snow creates problems for walking school children

Snow was first and foremost on the minds of the Roberts Village Board members at their Feb. 8 meeting.

Ethan Hofland, a senior from St. Croix Central High School, asked the board why they hadn't plowed the sidewalks in town. John Bond, public works director, said the village plows the walks on the main street, but the rest are up to the individual homeowners.

"It's hard for the elderly citizens to plow, especially on Division Street, and then it's hard for the kids to cross," Hofland said.

Willard Moeri, village president, agreed that it puts homeowners at a liability if anything should happen to someone while on their property.

Rand Waughtal, board member, brought up the issue that homeowners have a responsibility to shovel their walks within a certain time after a snowfall.

"With a lot of properties not having homeowners, that might have to be something that the village takes care of, similar to the situation with the grass or weeds exceeding 8 inches," Waughtal said.

Doreen Kruschke, village clerk, read part of the village ordinance, section 54-3, that states homeowners have 24 hours after a snowfall to shovel their walk and salt it. If not, the village has the right to take care of it and bill the homeowner within 30 calendar days or have it put on their taxes if delinquent.

The board agreed sending out a reminder to all homeowners in the fall newsletter.

Bond then raised a related concern about homeowners extending landscaping up to the curb line. He said his department came upon the problem as they were removing snow from fire hydrants.

"When the snow is deep, we can't see the little bush they've planted and when we push back the snow, the homeowner becomes upset because we've destroyed their bush," Bond explained.

Bond suggested including a letter in the March water bills reminding people that the 14-15 feet behind the curb is the village easement and homeowners are not supposed to put in sprinklers or landscaping in that area. Moeri agreed with the letter idea.

Sex offender ordinance discussion

At the January board meeting, Police Chief Dan Burgess brought up the subject of the village not having a defined ordinance regarding sex offenders living within the community. He presented current ordinances from North Hudson and Hudson, as well as a draft that New Richmond is developing.

"They are all virtually identical by design," Burgess explained. "North Hudson initiated it and worked with the Department of Corrections."

Burgess said 200 feet is the standard for a reasonable distance that sex offenders should be away from a child safe zone. He drafted a map stipulating child safe zones within Roberts, including the school, library, anyplace frequented by children.

He said currently there are three registered sex offenders living in the Village of Roberts, and none of them are living within the 200 feet of a child safe zone.

This ordinance will not address those sex offenders who are on parole or probation, as the Department of Corrections already enforces those restrictions on them.

Instead, this ordinance would address those offenders who are still on the registry, but off parole and probation. Those people are only required to register, but where they live is entirely up to them (and whatever municipal ordinances are in place).

Burgess said this was important because surrounding communities are adopting similar ordinances and if Roberts does not, sex offenders may decide to live in Roberts because of its lenient laws.

"This would also prevent anyone from being domiciled in the village that is not original resident," he said. "If a resident from River Falls comes off parole and says he wants to live in Roberts, this would prevent them from doing that.

"The major intent is to prevent someone from the outside living within the child safe zones," he said.

Sex offenders are classified into three categories - "one," "two" and "three" - with "three" being the most heinous crimes. Burgess said typically offenders classified as "two" or "three" require community action meetings.

Conversely, former Roberts residents who are now registered sex offenders would be able to return, provided they adhere to the ordinance. If the offender was a minor, he/she would be allowed to live with his/her parents and attend school, but under strict guidelines.

The board questioned whether or not the village could restrict offenders from attending the library or school functions if they had a child of their own. Burgess said as long as the offender had a legitimate reason for being within the child safe zone, such as attending his/her child's school play, it would have to be approved ahead of time.

The board asked Burgess to draft an ordinance for the Village of Roberts based on the one New Richmond is proposing for their municipality, as they agreed they liked how it was very specific in its defined areas. After Moeri gives it a once-over, they will submit the draft to the village attorney for further review. They also suggested getting Municipal Judge Peter Close's input regarding the fine outlines.

Land Rental Agreement

Another big discussion point was how to handle the village-owned 10-parcel area of land adjacent to the Wastewater Treatment Plant. Moeri said several years ago, the village didn't know what to do with it as it was very rocky in the front and sandy toward the back and growing weeds. A separate party volunteered to crop it and turn it back into hay. Now, Justin Johnson has been farming it without any rental fees and hopes to continue to grow feed corn.

"Our original intentions were good and it took care of a simple issue," Moeri said. "I commend the job Justin has done, but now we've had five people interested in the land as well.

"This was originally meant to take care of the weeds, but now money is involved," he said.

The board members agreed that Johnson has put in a huge investment so far, with the seed and fertilizer particularly. Moeri suggested renting it on a three-year basis: allow Johnson to finish out the year until September and then put it out for bids.

Bond said one thing to consider when allowing people to farm the land is that the crops cannot be any produce for humans to eat.

"If something happens to the wastewater plant, we have to spray irrigate," Bond explained. "We can do that for animal consumption, but not human consumption. Plus we've applied sludge to the land over the years and that takes you out of the human consumption aspect as well."

Scott Gerhardt, board member, said he did not have any problem with renting the land out, as long as there was a contract and price set.

Johnson was in the audience along with his father, Jerry, and they agreed to the fee.

The board decided to allow Johnson to continue farming the land until September 2010 for a rental fee of $500. At that time, the property will be open to anyone to rent on a three-year basis.

In other news:

• Burgess said the police department has written a new mission statement and have agreed on a motto: Neighbors Protecting Neighbors.

• The board approved raising the rental deposit for the Park Building from $50 to $100. The deposit check would be returned within 14 days after the building has been inspected for cleanliness.

• The Planning Commission suggested denying a resident's request to transform a home in the new Sharondale subdivision into a day care center accommodating between 20-30 children. The residents were moving back to Woodbury so the house would be just the day care facility. Moeri said the commission denied the request because they would have to rezone the area and they don't want to do that in a new residential area. The board approved the denial.

• The board approved Burgess' suggestion to work with an online vendor to sell the evidence and found items that were in storage that are no longer necessary, such as an engagement ring set, bicycles, baseball bats, etc. but not including contraband or firearms. The profits would be split evenly between the online vendor and the village.

• The board approved the Roberts-Warren Fire Association's new truck loose equipment purchase of $39,000 for the vehicle that should be ready by the end of February. Warren Township will also have to approve it as they are co-owners of the vehicle.

• The library board reported that they are looking to hire a part-time library staff member with a wage of $9 an hour. They hope to have the position filled by March.

• Bond said that there are some students from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls who are in GIS mapping program - the program the village is purchasing to catalog all stationary items in the area for maintenance purposes. He will check into how to hire one or two students for a couple of weeks to input the data. The board decided to discuss this more in detail at the March meeting.

• Representatives from Veolia Environmental Services in Eau Claire spoke to the board about the contract coming up for renewal on March 1. The board said they have not had any complaints, but would like to open the contract up for bids and see what changes Veolia would propose for another three-year contract. Veolia said they would extend the village's services until March 15 to give the board a chance to review bids at its March 8 meeting.

• The Village of Roberts meets the second Monday of each month at the Village Hall at 7 p.m. The public is welcome to attend.