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Committee chair dispels rumors


What's real, what isn't, about village hall effort



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TO CATCH WATER leaking in from the roof of the village hall last spring required a variety of containers strategically placed along the window sill. This isn't the only leak in the roof of the hall, according to Karen Bullock, trustee and chairwoman of the Village Hall Committee. (click for larger version)
June 25, 2013 | 02:17 PM
GENOA CITY — Some believe birds are nesting in the roof of the village hall, 715 Walworth St., while rodents have found a place to die in the western wall of the building.

The roof is leaking, and in the spring, village staff used everything from drink cups to empty coffee and whipped cream containers to catch water on the sill of the window near a quilt stitched with images of historical village scenes, such as the old Genoa Junction train station, in the meeting room.

These problems are nothing new, Karen Bullock said — the village trustee chairing the committee seeking a solution to these and more problems — during a Friday phone interview.

In addition to the cramped space in the hall shared by most of the village's departments and the structural problems, the Village Hall Committee's efforts are now plagued by rumors.

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One of the major fallacies surrounding the issue, Bullock said, is that the village is building a new hall. That hasn't been decided yet, she said.

"But there are enough current issues with this building that to not do anything would be irresponsible," Bullock said.

Is she feeding into those rumors with such a statement? Perhaps.

Previously, Bullock and Village President Bill Antti have said similar things in public. Bullock said they also have discussed possible scenarios to solve the space and repair problems with the village hall openly, and that may have added fuel to the fire.

But she also said a solution may not be to build a new hall. During a March interview, she said other solutions may be to purchase another building in the village, or to repair the existing one.

So far, the only official decision related to the village hall issue by the board, since it created the subcommittee last fall, was to hire Jon Wallenkamp, of Kueny Architects, Pleasant Prairie. On June 13, the board approved paying between $2,500 and $5,000 for Wallenkamp to study the building, the departments working in it and assess the needs of staff and the community.

"That is really the first expense item of this project," Bullock said. "We expect a report back from him at the end of July."

Why hire an architect?

"Up until this point, the efforts of the last seven months have been made by laypeople," Bullock said. "We've gone through a process to determine our needs, which now require expert help."

She emphasized the seriousness of the situation, which she said one person recently told her is like wanting to get rid of a house because of not liking its color.

"That's an oversimplification of what's going on here," she said.

As for the dead rodents in the wall, Bullock said people, including village employees, have complained about the stink.

"The solution has been to turn up the air conditioning," she said.

The ticking clock

The thing is, as the architect's study is ongoing, so are the committee's interviews of other architectural firms, which may be feeding one of the other major rumors Bullock identified Friday — that the village board is trying to push a building project through as quickly as possible.

So how do you say you're not trying to push a project through while you're interviewing architects before the completion of a study likely to determine what course of action officials will take with the village hall?

Bullock said time is a factor. If the village needs to implement a building project, she said the idea is to do so when the tax rate will be low.

That's why her committee is interviewing architects. Should the program study indicate a need for a project, and the board decide to move in that direction, the committee will be able to recommend an architect for the job.

Another rumor, according to Bullock, is that a village hall project will increase the village tax rate.

"We're very cognizant of people's concerns over taxes," Bullock said.

She said there have been public discussions at village board meetings well before the creation of the committee about doing something with the village hall. But what pushed it forward was the closure of the village's Tax Incremental Financing district, or TID.

The TID was created in 1997 as a way to fund infrastructure improvements. In a May interview, Antti said property tax revenue within the TID went to pay off the $6 million loan that was borrowed to implement these improvements.

That revenue could not be used to support the village's general fund, which pays for most municipal services.

Almost half the village — 44 percent — was in the TID. The silver lining: The TID closes in 2014, and a village tax rate decrease is in the forecast.

Bullock said she is concerned with completing a plan so that the timing of a village hall project coincides with the closure of the TID.

She also said she is concerned about starting a project later than that. Bullock said she doesn't want to see the village tax rate go down because of the TID payoff, then see it increase in the next year to fund the village hall project.

"We're trying to handle the financial aspect of this project in a really responsible manner," she said.

Bullock said she wants to see a "tax decrease that sticks, not just a one-year decrease."

Transparency and the stench of death

Another rumor Bullock discusses was that the Village Hall Committee isn't holding meetings at a convenient time for most people to attend them.

She said in the last seven months, the committee took tours of municipal buildings in nearby communities, such as Lake Geneva and Pleasant Prairie. The committee also has met to interview architects.

"Because of meeting with these experts and during the (building) tours, these are all things that need to be done during business hours," Bullock said.

There haven't been evening meetings yet, but expect them to be scheduled soon.

Bullock said there will be public hearings. Meanwhile, people can still keep tabs on the committee's progress even if they can't make committee meetings.

"It is a transparent process," she said. "People are welcome to attend meetings, there's a website about it, there have been newspaper articles. Every (regular) village board meeting, I do a report."

Bullock said she's also looking at alternative ways to get the word out about the issue — including having place mats printed and placed on tables in local restaurants. "That's unique," she said.

But Bullock assured there will be public meetings and hearings, possibly as early as after the program study is completed.

"Once it's time to do the evening meetings, I don't know if aggressive is the right word, but we will want to get the word out there more," she said. "Because we want everyone involved. The bottom line is this is for the community."

But what if the community doesn't want anything done about the village hall — rodents, birds and all?

"I'd be very disappointed if people thought the status quo, so to speak, is OK," Bullock said. "You look at the basement, there are issues there that need to be addressed. The failure to address some of these issues would be wrong."

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