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More room in lake to float your boat

October 30, 2014

The annual census of boats on Geneva Lake seems to show that boaters had a few more square feet of vessel-free surface water to play on this year.

Fire at the Cove

October 30, 2014

Several local fire departments responded to The Cove, 111 Center St., on Thursday night after a fire was detected in the sauna on the lower level pool area.

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Confirmation of Traver sale delayed

October 30, 2014

The former Traver Hotel, 323 Broad St., is now in a legal limbo.
Sold to former owner John Klug and mortgage holder at an Oct. 2 sheriff’s sale, confirmation of the sale is on hold.
Klug appeared to have regained possession of the building with an uncontested bid of $185,000 plus $34,482 in back property taxes.
The confirmation hearing set for Oct. 28 was cancelled, and Walworth County Judge Phillip Koss is now trying to arrange a new hearing at the request of attorney Scott Connors of Wauwatosa, who is representing 323 Broad Properties LLC and its agent, Keith Venturi of Barrington, Ill.
A spokeswoman from Koss’ office said no firm date has been set yet, but it appears the hearing will be rescheduled to early December.
Venturi bought the Traver from Klug in 2004 for a reported $469,000.
According to court documents filed Oct. 20, Connors says he also represents Barrington Bank & Trust and VP Construction LLC, both of which have liens against the property.
In his challenge to the confirmation hearing, Connors claims that he was not properly notified of the sheriff’s sale or confirmation hearing and requested that it be rescheduled.
He also challenges a Walworth County judge’s opinion that the construction lien held by VP Construction was inferior to the mortgage held by Klug.
Key to the challenge is a disagreement over the fair market value of the 140-year-old structure.
Connors claims that the sale price offered by Klug and accepted as the high bid, is actually well below the fair market value of the property.
According to court documents, Connors says that the property was sold by Klug to Keith Venturi
Figures provided by Connors indicate that the building’s value is $550,000, well above the $185,000 bid by Klug at the sheriff’s sale. The supporting appraisal was done by L.A. Duesterbeck & Associates Inc., Janesville. The appraisal is dated Sept. 29, 2008.
The Duesterbeck appraisal, signed by Linn Duesterbeck, concludes that the building is in fair to poor condition, the interior needs complete redevelopment and an elevator and sprinkler system need to be installed.
According to Duesterbeck, the owner (Venturi) indicated that the building would need between $3 million and $4 million in renovations. However, Klug, through his attorney Richard Torhorst, filed a differing appraisal by local real estate broker Sal Dimiceli, which shows the fair market value at $275,000. While the report itself is not dated, two supporting documents in the appraisal bear the date Oct. 16, 2014.
According to the Dimiceli appraisal, the building is “considered near or at condemnation.” The appraisal report also notes the “city of Lake Geneva would like to see it razed.”
County tax records filed with the court indicate that property taxes totaling $34,428 are due on the property for the years 2011, 2012 and 2013. The documents also note that $7,311 is also due as of January 2014.
The property is assessed at $282,900 with an estimated fair market value of $298,000.
Klug added the $34,428 taxes due to his $185,000 bid at the sheriff’s sale.
Included in the Duesterbeck appraisal are some facts about the former Traver:
• The chalet-style four-story building encompasses 14,306 square feet on a 7,208 square foot site.
• Historically, the building was a 68-unit hotel, with its average room size at 125 square feet. There is dedicated parking for four vehicles.
• The building has 106 feet of frontage on Broad Street and is in an area zoned for general business.
In his 2008 report, Duesterbeck notes that there had been little or no updating of the building in 35 to 50 years.
He lists the highest and best use as a 20-suite hotel with a restaurant and retail on the first level.
According the Lake Geneva Regional News archives, the building was built in 1870 by Benjamin Fish who opened it as the Union House hotel.
The Union House was later enlarged when a vacant building was moved from Main Street along side the Union House and the two structures were connected.
Since 1870, the building has been known as the Garrison House, the Hotel Denison and the Traver Hotel. Mrs. Traver’s homemade pies reportedly made the Traver name famous.
The building was used as a retirement home for missionaries for a number of years, but it ceased being a residence of any kind about 2000.
It has sat vacant since then.
After buying the building in 2004, Venturi did repair and cleanup on the building, but he was never able to find a renter to occupy the structure.

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Council reviews proposed city budget

October 30, 2014

Parking fines may take a bigger bite out of tardy motorists’ wallets, and residents may see the cost of their beach passes increase from free to $3 per beach pass per season under a budget proposal reviewed and approved by the Lake Geneva City Council on Monday
The public hearing on the budget will be 5 p.m. Nov. 17.
Meanwhile, raises for full-time city employees will amount to no more than 1.5 percent over last year.
The council convened in a special session Oct. 22 to review the proposed 2015 budget. The spending plan was shaped during a series of workshops and special meetings.
The proposed city general fund budget is $8.3 million.
But at the bottom line, the proposal was still out of balance by $66,422.
City Administrator Dennis Jordan told council members at the Oct. 22 meeting that the department heads were instructed to hold budget proposals to a zero increase this year.
“We had cut everything to acceptable levels to keep the services we have,” said Jordan.
Jordan also said that the city administration was considering a 2 percent raise for employees in 2015, which would cost another $100,000.
Expenses have gone up, said Alderman Dennis Lyon, who chairs the finance committee.

He said department heads “pretty much came up with zero percent increases. There’s not a lot of fat in the budget to cut out.”
Among recommendations for raising the required $166,422 were:
• Raise parking fines from $12 to $20.
• Increase visitor child beach passes from $3 to $4 per visit. Nonresident adult beach passes are now $7.
Charge residents $2 or $3 a season for beach passes.
• A 0.08 percent increase in the city property tax rate.
However, there is no proposed property tax rate for 2015 at this time.
City Comptroller Peg Pollitt said the state still has not calculated the city’s valuation for the 2015 tax year.
However, the city must approve a proposed general fund budget before setting a budget hearing in November, Pollitt said. Notices of the public hearing must also be published in advance.
Pollitt said it’s anticipated that the city’s tax base has increased, which might allow the city to keep its current tax rate and still collect an increase in property taxes.
Council members Elizabeth Chappell, Jeff Wall and Richard Hedlund said they were concerned with the proposed property tax rate increase, even as small as the one proposed.
Chappell said she only favored increasing parking fines.
She said she was against any other fee increases and she was opposed to pay raises for city employees.
Jordan said that the beach pass tags cost money and “it takes staff time to manage the program.”
The costs are starting to add up, he said.
“If a citizen is concerned about paying $12 for a season beach pass (for a family of four) then my goodness,” Jordan said.
Hedlund said he supported raising fees and fines if necessary.
“If a tourist gets a parking ticket in Lake Geneva, they’re mad,” said Hedlund. “It doesn’t matter if they’re paying $12 or $20.”
As for beach passes, Lake Geneva’s seem reasonable compared to other communities, he said.
“Beach passes in Crystal Lake (Ill.) for adults is $10 a day,” Hedlund said.
Increasing the cost of beach passes will bring an anticipated $27,000, he said. And if he were on the finance committee, he’d push for $10 adult nonresident beach passes and $5 nonresident children beach passes.
Alderwoman Ellyn Kehoe said she, too, believes visitors would be willing to pay more for a city beach pass.
“We could take it to $8 or $9 for nonresident adult passes,” she said.
Wall said he didn’t mind raising fees and fines, as long as the property tax rate wasn’t increased.
However, Wall said he also didn’t want to consider raises for city employees until an employee compensation study was completed. In February this year, the council agreed to join Elkhorn and Delavan in hiring Springsted, a Milwaukee consulting firm, to do a job classification and compensation study for the three cities.
Lake Geneva’s share of Springsted’s fees comes to $16,675, of which $13,000 will come out of the city administrator’s study budget and the difference from miscellaneous cash.
The study was to have been done this summer, but it’s still not completed.
“Don’t we want to see that before we consider raises?” Wall asked.
“Why are we so far behind on the compensation plan? It was supposed to be done June 28,” added Alderman Alan Kupsik.
Jordan said the consultants are still working on the study, but one of the cities has been making special requests which is causing the study to take longer than expected. The report should be ready before the end of the year, he said.
In other business, the city bumped up its payment to the YMCA, from $48,000 to $54,000 to handle the city’s recreation program.
Mayor Jim Connors said the city is also considering an increase in room tax.
The city currently has a 5 percent room tax on hotel and motel rooms, said Connors.
The city takes in $420,000 a year, of which $100,000 is given to the chamber of commerce and convention and visitors bureau.
Since the city enacted its room tax, the state enacted a new statute calling for 70 percent of all room taxes to go to convention and visitors bureaus or organizations that promote tourism.
If Lake Geneva were to increase its room tax to the maximum 8 percent, 70 percent of that 3 percent increase would have to go to the chamber and CVB, Connors said.
Chappell asked why that proposal wasn’t part of the budget presented to the city council. Connors said the city needs to talk to hotel owners and the chamber to see what they think of the proposed increase.
He said the chamber is not a fan of the proposal. “They think it will hurt tourism,” he said.
Chappell chided that the city was careful to go to hotel owners and the chamber before proposing an increase in the room tax, but it never approached residents about an increase in the beach pass fees.
“It just seems all so convenient,” she said of the proposed fee increases.
Chappell proposed just increasing the parking fines from $12 to $20 only, and no raises for city employees.
“I would rather look into a room tax increase,” Chappell said, but that wasn’t part of her motion. Wall seconded for discussion.
Chappell’s motion failed 1 to 5.
A motion by Kupsik, seconded by Lyon proposed to raise the parking fine to $20, raise the nonresident children beach pass from $3 to $4 and charge residents a fee of $3 each for a season beach pass.
Raises would be held to 1.5 percent.
The motion was approved 5 to 1, with Chappell the only dissenting vote.
The resolution directs staff to craft the budget with those changes.

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Hedlund to 'try out' council seat

October 30, 2014

Hedlund was born in Eau Claire, but his father, who worked for General Motors, moved the family first to Michigan and then to Illinois. Hedlund said he grew up in the Chicago area....subscribers>>

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Council removes city's color barrier

October 30, 2014
With no discussion and a quick, unanimous vote, the Lake Geneva City Council on Monday cleared away the downtown color barrier.
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Thin crust 'za joins LG pizza scene

October 30, 2014

The pizza business in Lake Geneva is about as crowded as Main Street during any weekend festival.


Recent Lake Geneva News
Parking sans kiosks may be in the future
October 23, 2014

Imagine Lake Geneva streets without parking meters.

Managing city may be more than one-man job
October 23, 2014

Former Lake Geneva City Clerk Mike Hawes was not interviewed by police about the situation in the city street department.

Leadership disconnect
October 23, 2014

The investigation into the Lake Geneva Street Department generated more than a thousand pages of reports and transcripts of police interviews of more than 30 people.
Not all of the testimony deals with the alleged illegal trade of services, sand and salt between the city and private companies.
Some transcripted comments touch on issues unrelated to charges filed against two city employees but which may lay bare the functions and malfunctions of city government.
Former mayor Bill Chesen is unsparing in his criticism of city management, in particular City Administrator Dennis Jordan and Dan Winkler, public works director and utility director.
Jordan and Winkler deny any wrongdoing. Neither have been charged with anything.
“They sure as heck knew what was going on,” Chesen said in a recent telephone interview, referring to Winkler and Jordan.
It turns out that what was allegedly “going on,” as Chesen termed it, was an informal system set up between former street department superintendent Ron Carstensen and two local landscaping companies that involved trading road grit (sand and salt) from the city in exchange for other services and materials from the two companies. Don Hoeft Jr., former street department foreman, was also implicated in the informal exchange system. The alleged arrangement may violate state law which forbids municipalities selling or otherwise giving materials bought through a state contract to private persons or businesses.
Carstensen and Hoeft face multiple felony charges of official misconduct along with related misdemeanor charges.
Carstensen has since pleaded not guilty to all charges. Both he and Hoeft will be in court Nov. 14, Carstensen on a status hearing and Hoeft to enter his plea.
Chesen voluntarily came to the Lake Geneva Police Department, where he was interviewed by Lake Geneva Police Detective Joe Ecklund on Dec. 20, 2013.

Ecklund started the interview with a question about an alleged street department slush fund.
Chesen said he heard of the slush fund and talked with Jordan and Carstensen about it.
An allegation that a street department employee was taking coins from the Riviera fountain and used the funds to buy a classic car drew attention to potential problems in the street department, Chesen said.
A district attorney’s opinion that the coins were technically abandoned property, led Chesen to approach Jordan and suggest the city take charge of the coins in the fountain and cash them in.
And, according to Chesen’s testimony, he met with Carstensen and Jordan to discuss the alleged slush fund. Carstensen argued the street department needed the fund to pay for small items, Chesen told police.
In his interview with the Regional News, Chesen said he suggested that a petty cash fund of $100 or $200 would be appropriate, which would be replenished when the street department submitted its receipts at the end of the month.
Jordan was reluctant to take on either of the issues without being prodded into action, Chesen claimed.
Chesen makes it clear in the transcript that he believes the rot started at the head of city administration.
According to Chesen, when he first took office, Jordan approached him and asked whether he could play golf.
“As crazy as this is gonna sound, I get elected mayor and in my first week at city hall, Dennis Jordan comes to me and says ‘I play golf on Tuesdays and Thursdays, do you have a problem with that?’” Chesen said, according to the transcripts.
Later, in a telephone interview, Chesen said the request took him aback.
“I told him, Dennis, you are the lead professional,” Chesen said. Employees in the city hall were looking up to him to be a leader, he said.
Called for comment, Jordan seemed surprised by Chesen’s comments, and said that golf conversation did not take place.
Jordan denied he talked with Chesen about taking two days a week to play golf.
Jordan, who was hired by Mayor Charlie Rude in 2002, said he first talked with Rude about whether it would be OK for him to join a golf league.
“I wouldn’t even think of going two days a week,” Jordan said.
However, when a staff person has worked well beyond 40 hours, they can take time off, Jordan said. He said city staff does it now.
“It hasn’t been abused,” Jordan said.
During his own Jan. 3 interview with police, Jordan was asked if there was anything in writing that might have guided the street department in what was proper and what was not.
Jordan expressed exasperation with the decision by the department heads to apparently bend the rules.
“Monthly staff meetings, for god’s sakes,” Jordan said in the transcripts. “Everybody knows you’re not supposed to do that stuff … I mean, I can’t believe, you know, you just keep doing the same old same old.”
Jordan also said that the street department slush fund was ended shortly after his meeting with Chesen. But, said Jordan, the slush fund was apparently restarted.
Jordan maintains that the total amount of money recovered from the fountain does not amount to much, and that the coins must be cleaned before a bank will take them.
He said he still believes the costs to collect and clean the coins from the fountain outstrips what the coins are worth.
Chesen also claimed that bids were mishandled through the department of public works.
Chesen told police he saw bid envelopes that were opened before they went to the city clerk.
At the very least, Chesen said, it indicated a bad process. He did not accuse anyone of bid rigging.
Dan Winkler denied that bids were pre-opened at any time.
He said his department doesn’t even handle most bid envelopes. Those are delivered to the city clerk by the contractors, Winkler said.
He said that on the day of the bid openings, if the city clerk is not available, the city administrator and he, as public works director, would open the bids, usually in the presence of the deputy clerk.
However, it becomes clear from Winkler that, while he was nominally in control of the street department, he did not have complete control.
In his Jan. 20 police interview, Winkler explained that when he was first hired, he was head of both utilities and public works. However, in 2001, under former mayor Spyro Condos, Winkler was no longer public works director, but was retained by the utility commission.
When Rude became mayor, Winkler was brought back as public works director, but he was still paid through the utilities commission and he didn’t have the authority he once had.
“It was all … because of the politics side of it,” Winkler said in the transcripts. He said his entire salary was still paid by the utility commission, which left some of the city council members with some “heartburn” over his position.
He said some council members resented that they had no direct control over him.
“They don’t do my performance evaluations. They don’t pay me as an employee. I do everything I do en gratis by resolution and agreement between me and the city,” Winkler told the interviewing officers.
Subsequent city councils did not want to relinquish their control of the street department.
Asked why he does the job, Winkler replied “because it needs to be done.”
While the issue of bid openings never came up during his interview with police,, other rumors were broached that Winkler was getting free services from companies to improve his personal property.
Winkler denied taking any services from private firms, saying he paid for all work done on his personal property.
However, he did point out that his home is very close to a hiking path.
He said he’s asked the street department to clear out brush. He said he’s spread bark chips himself on the path.
In his interview, Chesen presents the role of the mayor of Lake Geneva as that of a cheerleader or movie director, calling on department heads and staff to perform their jobs properly. But when the day is done, the mayor has to rely on those department heads.
And without the support of the city council, that task becomes almost impossible for the mayor, Chesen said.
Chesen had a rocky relationship the city council that eventually led him to dismiss four council members for allegedly violating the state Open Meetings Act. He unsuccessfully tried to replace them with four appointees. It is very clear from the interview transcripts that the former alderman and mayor has had his fill of city politics.
But, he said, he still loves Lake Geneva.

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LG girl’s magazine focuses on faith
October 16, 2014

Alea is the founder of her own quarterly, full-color publication, “God Girl Magazine,” which she started this year.

Beautification awards presented
October 16, 2014

The Committee for the Beautification of Lake Geneva presented its 11th annual landscaping awards to businesses and residents who have gone the extra mile to keep their properties in eye-catching shape. ...subscribers>>

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