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Agree to disagree: Officials offer opinions on Town Hall issue



STATE OF CONFUSION? Geneva — Supervisor Larry Kulik insists his board voted Oct. 11 on moving forward with a project to solve the spacial and structural concerns about the current Town Hall. He said himself and Supervisor Steve Kukla voted against such a motion. According to Kulik, Town Chairman Dan Lauderdale and Supervisor Keith Millard voted in favor of the motion. Supervisor Bob Kamps wasn't at the meeting. Kulik said action was tabled until all five supervisors were present. He even wrote about it in a letter to the editor in this week's Regional News. But Lauderdale, Town Clerk-Treasurer Deb Kirch and Kukla said no official vote took place. "There were so many things we voted on that night, but I believe on that particular subject (the Town Hall idea) was tabled," Kukla said. He said he believed Lauderdale said the issue would be tabled until all five board members were present. On Thursday, Oct. 14, Kirch said she listened to a recording of the Oct. 11 meeting. She said the discussion lasted about a half-hour between the board and Scott Letteney, the chairman of the Municipal Building Ad Hoc Committee and the town's municipal judge. According to Kirch, the discussion ended with talk of a future joint meeting between the board and the committee. Due to a scheduling conflict, the Regional News was unable to attend the Oct. 11 meeting. The Oct. 11 agenda stated there would be a "status report" from the Municipal Building Ad Hoc Committee. It didn't state there would be any action on the Town Hall issue.
October 20, 2010 | 08:49 AM
Geneva — Apparently, there's a rift between Town Board members.

Some of them favor looking into ways to deal with the spatial and structural concerns about the Geneva Town Hall, N3496 Como Road. Others say now's not the time to talk about spending money.

During communications between Thursday, Oct. 14, and Monday, all five board members expressed similar concerns about the issue of what to do with the Town Hall as they explained their stance on the topic.

In July, the Town Board voted 3-2 in favor of a resolution to investigate borrowing no more than $2 million to possibly buy property and build a new structure. Town Chairman Dan Lauderdale and Supervisors Bob Kamps and Keith Millard voted in favor of it. Supervisors Larry Kulik and Steve Kukla opposed it.

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The board discussed this at the Oct. 11 regular board meeting with Scott Letteney, chairman of the Municipal Building Ad Hoc Committee and the town's municipal judge.

In an e-mail Friday, Lauderdale said the next step will be a joint meeting between the board and the committee.

According to Lauderdale, one topic of the joint meeting may be how to proceed with the Town Hall issue during the next three years. He said no official decision was made Oct. 11, but "one particular board member did exhaust a great deal of effort in opposition to our continuation of the investigation."

"Dissention among the board is good, but we all need remind ourselves that we will at times disagree with one another (and) should always be remindful that we must agree to disagree and move forward ... to properly serve residents of the town," Lauderdale said.

Chairman's opinion

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In July, Lauderdale relayed stories of disrepair with the Town Hall.

"Our furnace malfunctioned (and) Elkhorn Fire Department was summoned to the scene when the building filled up with smoke," he said.

This meant the cost of replacing the furnace. But it's not just the interior of the building which threatens the town's pocketbook.

"Over the last winter, our handicapped-accessible, concrete ramp dilapidated very badly due to ice and weather conditions," Lauderdale said. "It has been Band-Aided."

These are situations which prompted Lauderdale to create the Ad Hoc Committee, an advisory body created to serve the Town Board.

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In e-mails Friday, Lauderdale said he supports putting whatever plan officials decide to pursue to a referendum. When asked why, he said "see resolution."

Lauderdale also said improvements could result in a structure which meets requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

"This is a three-year investigation and I am hopeful that our economy will improve by then," he said.

Lauderdale reported the estimated tax burden.

"The cost to a taxpayer for this project has been projected to be just over $30 annually for the average $200,000 home," he said. "That projected cost involves no consideration of grants, allocated funds in designated accounts or cutbacks that may become available due to low interest rates."

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But those answers may be uncovered during an "investigation" which will begin with this joint meeting, according to Lauderdale.

"Continuation of the process would be to investigate costs for a site, grant opportunities, interest rates, size of the needed facility and many other avenues," he said. "It would also, as discussed at our October meeting, involve a collective decision upon the need for a referendum decision which, at this time, I continue to support. In the meantime, the town continues to make improvements on its facility, (which is) inclusive of a salt shed, garage needs, parking lot improvent (and) others within the discussions of our 2011 budgetary needs."

Apparently, something else is occurring behind the scenes.

"We are looking at sites, but talking about them would impede future price negotiations," Lauderdale said.

The opposition

Two common threads in the explanations offered by Kukla and Kulik as to why this effort should stop are the state of the economy and the current Town Hall isn't as bad as others think.

"People are still losing their jobs, homes are being foreclosed on and this economy could take years to recover," Kukla stated in an e-mail Monday. "My constituents voted me into office and rely on me to make decisions on their behalf. As I speak to people around town, by far the majority state that this is not the time to spend more money."

He said although the current Town Hall needs help, it "does serve its purpose." Kukla suggested some course of action which takes place "over an extended period of time."

"Perhaps a five- to seven-year plan should be enacted to help spread out the costs so as to not hurt the taxpayers of the town all at once," he said. "The town's valuation has dropped about 6 percent this year and it may continue to drop another 6 to 8 percent before a recovery begins. Most people who purchased a home within the last five years are most likely underwater with their current mortgages, which is again why I feel this is not the time to spend upwards of $2 million on new buildings."

Kukla also supports putting the issue to referendum. He thanked committee members for their efforts, but "now is the time for the people to decide, not just the board members."

Kulik expressed a similar viewpoint during an interview Thursday, Oct. 14.

He said the Town Hall isn't in a state of collapse yet, and with the town's budget about $1.7 million, he doesn't want to spend another $2 million for a place of work in which only a few people are present throughout the day.

According to Kulik, the town's clerk-treasurer, deputy clerk and Police Department clerk are the only ones who work in the Town Hall full-time. Others, such as the building inspector, highway superintendent and clerk of courts, are not in the building from morning to evening.

"So we need to build a building for a handful of people?" Kulik asked.

He said he understands the Town Hall building is old, but if anything, the town needs a new municipal garage.

"We're parking stuff outside," Kulik said. "We paid $160,000 for a weed cutter that we basically put a tarp over and park outside."

He said when he ran for election earlier this year, it was on the platform of no capital town projects right now. Kulik also said he doesn't believe the majority of other town residents want a Town Hall project.

"Letteney (on Oct. 11) said he didn't believe a referendum would pass," Kulik said. "It's pretty clear to me the people don't want it."

Still looking

During an interview Monday, Kamps talked about his experiences during the November 2004 U.S. presidential election.

"I just remember I was one of the people standing outside," he said. "I was over by the town's garage. There was at least 75 people standing in front of me and it was cold and raining that day."

That's what prompted him to bring the idea of the town using the Como Community Church as a polling site for the 2008 presidential election, which the church board of directors accepted. No one reported any serious incidents during that election.

Kamps said the 2004 election experience opened his eyes to the need. Although he said it's why he voted for the July resolution, he offered his take on what it actually means.

"It wasn't necessarily to build a new Town Hall," he said. "It was more to say to (the committee) to go to the next step and find out what a new Town Hall would cost."

Kamps also discussed the current state of the economy. He said this is the time for a project because the potential is greater to receive more bids at cheaper costs. "It may be cheaper to build now, if we could get a good deal," he said. "Maybe we could even put people to work and get a local contractor. If we could put some local people to work and we could afford it, it wouldn't be a bad thing."

However, he said the resolution doesn't mean the board is taking any course of action yet.

"We're still hoping maybe somebody would donate some land," Kamps said. "But right now, the way I understand it, we're looking at a bunch of different options. Do we move the Town Hall or just the Street Department? There's still many, many issues to work out."

That was the point Millard made in his e-mail Monday. When asked if he supports a Town Hall project, he said the answer "requires more than a simple yes or no."

Millard said the resolution adopted in July was "in favor of investigating the possibility of building a new Town Hall, borrowing funds over the next three years and looking for building sites."

"We are currently investigating the possibilities of obtaining grants and securing the lowest possible interest rates with borrowing limited to $2 million," he said. "Although we are inquiring about a $2 million loan does not mean that we would be utilizing all of these funds. I understand the possibility of a loan that size is concerning. However, the equally concerning factor is the unsuitable facilities of the Town Hall."

According to Millard, the possibility of new construction could address challenges created by the current facilities on the Town Hall property.

"Currently, the Town Hall is not completely handicapped-accessible," he said. "The highway garages are in great disrepair. In addition, due to the lack of storage, we are currently forced to keep our new $160,000 weed harvester outdoors. The city of Lake Geneva stores our police boat and a local farmer stores numerous other pieces of our equipment — not to mention voting space is limited, causing more people to cast unnecessary absentee ballots."

Millard said the board is in the process of an investigation.

"We recognize the need for something to be done," he said. "As a taxpayer myself, we will continue to keep all taxpayers in mind if we decide to pursue this endeavor. We have been extremely careful with budgeting and expenditures (so as) not to raise taxes in the past three years."

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