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Hatfield project gets thumbs up for summer

It appears the Wisconsin National Guard unit from Platteville will be coming to New Richmond this summer afterall.

The engineering unit is slated to work on further excavation of Hatfield Regional Park over the course of four weeks.

The troops were scheduled to work on the project last summer, but necessary Department of Natural Resources permits were not secured in time for that to occur. City officials indicated at that time that the permits would be pursued and the work would be done in 2011 instead.

In recent months, however, officials voiced their concerns about whether taxpayers could afford to pay the city's share of the project -- $50,000 to help buy fuel for the project -- in light of the current economic downturn.

In the end, council members agreed to help make this summer's project possible, but they sent a strong message that previously borrowed money by the Youth Sports Association, Friends of Citizen's Park and the park board needs to be repaid before any future funding requests for parks and recreation will be considered.

At its regular meeting Nov. 8, the council unanimously approved spending $50,000 of the city's fund balance to help make the project possible this year. The city needed to make a decision by Nov. 15 on whether or not to invite the National Guard engineers to New Richmond this summer.

After the Youth Sports Association borrows the full $50,000 allotted by the city, about $87,000 in loans will be outstanding for the Hatfield and Citizens Field projects.

About $23,000 of that total will be loaned to the New Richmond Park Board to help pay for Hatfield's development. Funds collected in the city's parkland dedication fund, and from farming leases for city-owned property at Hatfield and land near 140th Street/County Road GG, will pay back that loan.

The Friends of the Citizen's Field organization borrowed about $15,000 to improve the local baseball complex. The majority of that loan remains unpaid.

"How far down the rabbit hole do we continue to go in terms of borrowing?" Alderman Kirk Van Blaircom asked. "I feel like we should be paid back before we borrow any more."

Van Blaircom said he was "disappointed" that only $1,000 had been paid off from the Citizens Field project, leaving $14,000 to be repaid.

Van Blaircom said he'd like to see a consistent repayment plan adopted so that progress is made on the return of city funds.

Alderman Jane Hansen agreed. She urged supporters of youth sports to band together to raise the funds needed to complete the park. She said surrounding municipalities and individuals could help the project along.

"You can do great things without having to come back to us," she said.

Mayor Fred Horne said the Guard project is a good idea, because it saves the city about $440,000 in excavation costs when compared to how much it would cost to hire a private contractor.

But the city needs to put the brakes on the project after this, or at least until community growth warrants further investment.

"We basically want to put this park kind of on hold," Horne said. "I think the community needs to take a breather."

More than 100 members of the 229th Horizontal Engineer Company in Platteville will be excavating about 40-50 acres at Hatfield Lake Regional Park during their summer stay.

Crews will be working seven days a week, 12 hours a day on the project. City parks officials hope that the majority of the excavation work at Hatfield will be completed in that timeframe.

The park currently has several developed soccer fields in use on the southern edge of its boundary. The plan is to add baseball, softball and soccer fields available for use by youth and adult athletes.