'Somerset looks junky;' Police Chief addresses cleaning up the town
Somerset Police Chief Tom Sirovatka updated the Somerset Village Board Tuesday, May 21 on his efforts to enlist the cooperation of 32 property owners to clean up their properties. Issues with the various properties range from refuse and poorly maintained buildings with siding falling off to piles of tree branches and wood to abandoned and junk vehicles housed in temporary and dilapidated carports.
"I think there's a greater issue here. I think that, ultimately to clean up the village it's going to take a collaborative effort. I think we need to better define what constitutes an offense or nuisance. Business owners and renters in the village don't have a lot of space. Multiple residences and apartment buildings have a lot of vehicles per address and they don't have ample space to park. They end up putting their vehicles in their yards. They're still registered licensed vehicles but they end up looking like eyesores. I can't issue tickets for those vehicles because there's nothing in our ordinance citing that as a violation. Issues with buildings falling down, siding falling off or in need of paint really fall to the building inspector, not the police and I haven't got much help from him," said Sirovatka.
Owners were initially issued letters from the Police Department asking them to remedy their various issues. According to Sirovatka, about three quarters of property owners complied and took steps to clean up their properties. The remaining 8-10 properties were issued citations beginning in mid April. The chief has elected to issue citations on a weekly basis versus a daily basis which the department would have the right to do. Each citation costs an owner $218.50. Sirovatka has issued 24 citations so far having just finished issuing his third round to non-compliant owners this week.
"We're going to start seeing more of these, I'm going to call them paper or plastic garages, these temporary fabric type carports. There are a number of them out there now and if you look around, most of them are pretty well destroyed. They just add to the problem. There's nothing in our current ordinances that we could enforce right now pertaining to how those temporary shelters should be maintained or if they should even be allowed. We have a bigger problem than
just the 32 properties that are on the current list. If you just take a drive around and look, the town's a mess. It came up at several of the community meeting sessions at the Lutheran Church. If we're going to create a more business-like atmosphere to draw in more new housing, we've got to clean up Somerset. The words used were, 'Somerset looks junky.' That was loud and clear at that community meeting. The Chief of Police is going to have to have some assistance with this," said Trustee Kim Putz.
Trustees briefly considered several ideas including revising building codes to prohibit portable carports and adding unpaid fines to property tax bills.
"The building inspector does need to be involved otherwise we will find a new building inspector. There's some pretty simple (expletive) here that we can do. I'll leave it at that. Part of our ordinance does state that if we want to continue with this, we can clean it up ourselves to the letter of the ordinance at the expense of the homeowner. So there are some alternatives here. So this entity needs to decide whether you want to continue writing tickets that aren't getting anywhere or if we want to address it differently," said President John Melvin.
The first round of citations are due in court this week.
Trustees approved a motion to meet with the building inspector at the committee level to review the ordinance and recommend procedures that he can move forward with; revise the list to reflect which properties are outstanding; address whether or not to go further with the ordinance as it pertains to vehicles; and evaluate the impact of having the village clean up the properties directly at the expense of the owners.
Tubing companies step forward, Montpetit steps back
Trustees took under advisement a three-page proposal compiled by members of the Apple River Floating Industry to address responsibilities for cleaning the river and providing security on the river and in Village Park. The proposal comes in response to serious concerns expressed by residents and Village Board members at the end of the 2018 tubing season. Several safety and security incidents on the river last season reflected unfavorably on the businesses, recalling the 1990's and early 2000's when unruliness on the river and amphitheater created a rift between the river businesses and residents.
Steve Kaufman, owner of River's Edge, authored the proposal and presented it to the board.
"I think I'm in tune with what the board's asking from us and I don't think it's unreasonable. But I wanted us all to be in the same room to hear what the board's concerns were and what we can do to answer those concerns," said Kaufman.
The proposal featured a detailed cleaning and maintenance schedule including a minimum of four garbage removal runs a week on the river during the main season from River's Edge to the dam, a minimum of four garbage removal and general maintenance visits a week to the Village Park area and a deep cleaning of the river by the dam every 3-4 years. The proposal also specifies a weekend security schedule for Village Park from late June through mid August, provides for the installation of surveillance cameras on the river to insure safety and security and monitoring of buses for substance abusers.
Apple River Hideaway owner Mike Kappers volunteered to be the contact person on behalf of the coalition.
Jeff Taylor, manager of the Apple River Family Campground, noted the businesses have set aside funds to help pay for additional security if needed and they would prefer to invest that money locally if possible.
Sirovatka told coalition members and trustees that his resources are limited with regard to providing full-time police presence in Village Park on the weekends.
"As of right now, I don't have any (officers) scheduled that are going to strictly sit down there on shift," said Sirovatka.
Melvin said the board would discuss further what it might be able to do to assist with security at the park then asked if the village could hold businesses accountable to the proposal.
"Once it's finalized, the plan is to stand behind it. It is a working document. We expect there will be minor revisions to it, but we plan to stand behind and be accountable to it, absolutely," said Taylor.
It appeared Taylor spoke on behalf of only three of the four owners present, Kaufman, Kappers and himself. John Montpetit, owner of Float Rite Park, excluded himself from the agreement.
"I just want it on the record that Float Rite is not accountable for that piece of paper if something happens for a lawsuit. I want that on record," said Montpetit.
"I think this is a good start as to where we need to be with the majority in favor of making sure we clean the river up and have a nice safe environment. Making sure that is achieved and done the right way is the ultimate goal," said Melvin.
Trustees unanimously approved a resolution authorizing the issuance and sale of up to $1,141,266 worth of Water and Sewer System Revenue Bonds. The resolution includes approval of a Financial Assistance Agreement between the village and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Wisconsin Department of Administration, which administers the Safe Drinking Water Loan Program.
The interest rate for the SDWL loan is fixed at 1.98% for a term of 20 years.
Ehlers representative Sean Lentz explained that an ordinance adopted by the village in October 1995, which combined Sewer and Water utilities into a single utility, gives the village the financial capacity to qualify for the SDWL loan. He also cautioned trustees that ideally the village would want each utility to be responsible for paying its own debt. That being the case, starting in 2020, the water utility will need to come up with an additional $30,000-$40,000 annually for five years to pay for this loan.
"Based on 2018 revenues, the ability of the water utility alone to cover this new debt and the existing debt would result in a shortfall starting in 2020. However, the village is pledging not just its water revenues. What the state, who is loaning you this money, is most interested in is, the combined revenues of the sewer and water utilities together. When you combine all the debt that the sewer utility is responsible for and all the debt that the water utility is responsible for, you are covering all the debt plus there is a surplus remaining. That capacity will allow the village to close on this loan. The one thing that I would mention for the board to consider is, in an ideal situation we want the water utility to cover all its debt, sewer to cover all its debt, tax levy debt to cover its debt and so on and so forth. It doesn't require immediate attention to close on this loan, but given that goal, you're probably going to need about $30,000 - $40,000 a year in additional water revenues starting in 2020 over the next five years. After that the water debt drops down," said Lentz.
When looking at how to pay for that additional debt, Lentz suggested that additional growth within the village should contribute some revenue but the village may also need to consider raising rates.
According to MSA Professional Services representative Charles Schwartz, a pre-construction meeting for the new well house is scheduled for June. An easement agreement with Apple River Family Campground is pending with approval expected the week of May 27. The DNR is still reviewing the wellhouse plans as well. If DNR approval is not received by June 12, closing on the SDWL would be canceled and the village would need to start the application process over again.
The total cost for Well #5 and the new well house is $1,653,266. The village is relying on funding from three sources to pay for the project: $500,000 from a Community Development Block Grant, $1,141,266 from the Safe Drinking Water Loan and $12,000 from cash provided by the village.
• Trustees approved an agreement with MSA Professional Services to provide inspection services related to the Main Street Bridge over the Apple River in the amount of $2,700.
• Trustees approved a service agreement with MSA Professional Services to implement a Drainage Improvement Plan for Arnold Street in the amount of $6,300. The plan includes repairs to the centrate lift station.