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St. Croix County approves land sale

The St. Croix County Board of Supervisors stepped up to the plate again to address the question of selling county land for a capital projects fund Tuesday, Jan. 8, and passed the resolution by a narrow margin.

Shortly before the clock struck noon Supervisor Fred Horne mercifully called the question after an exhaustive discussion period and the proposal passed by a 10-8 margin.

Travis Schachtner, Richard Ottino, Dave Ostness, Roger Larson, Fred Horne, Ron Kiesler, Joe Hurtgen and Brian Hurtgen voted against the measure.

Capital projects to benefit from the sale include relocation of the 911 Call Center, vacating, demolition and clean-up of the Health and Human Services building in New Richmond and relocation of the employees.

The resolution was tabled at the Dec. 4 meeting after some discussion.

In the meantime the proposal had made the rounds of various committees. "Over the past month, the staff has worked with the standing committees on this item," said Administrator Pat Thompson.

"Items in the strategic plan are addressed by this action," Thompson said.

The administrator said since 2001 the county has spent more than $170,000 on a number of studies looking over the land issue in one way or another.

"This is not a fire sale, it's a well thought out plan," he said.

Auctioneers Barry Hager, Ellsworth, and Tim Prusak, Clayton, addressed the board and pitched the concept of an auction for obtaining the highest price for the agricultural property.

"We are in a perfect storm today. We are in all time low interest rates, all time high corn and soybean prices, farmers are earning record high profits," said Hager, who has been an auctioneer for 35 years.

Thompson said Hager and Prusak were not under contract, rather invited to explain the process.

The resolution faced an amendment before it hit the floor that involved a reconstruction of the language by Supervisor Buck Malick who introduced it at the last meeting then refined it Tuesday.

The amendment to give the board final approval on spending the proceeds from a sale passed by a 15-3 margin, Daryl Standafer, Schachtner and Ottino voted against.

Horne, who recused himself from voting on the measure last month because he is mayor of New Richmond where most of the property is located, said the city would not be involved in any purchase of the land and returned to the voting ranks.

Horne introduced an amendment to hold out 180 acres of the 554 for sale.

He said the parcels are along a four-lane highway that would be more valuable than selling it as agricultural. "It would be more beneficial to the taxpayer," he said.

Supervisor Fred Yoerg said there was no secret about the location of the property therefore any buyer would know the potential value.

Auctioneer Hager said it was a "given" investors would know the potential for the land.

"I don't think St. Croix County is in the real estate and development business," said Yoerg.

Horne's amendment failed on a 14-4 vote.

County Board Notes:

--The board adopted a resolution authorizing changes in the fund balance policy by a 14-4 margin. Tim Hood, Yoerg, Kilber and Ottino voted against. "I have heartburn setting up these separate funds," said Hood. Supervisor Tom Hawksford was absent.

For the complete story, see this week's New Richmond News.