Committee doesn’t bite on funding request for Medford dog park
A proposal by a private nonprofit group to build a dog park in the city of Medford suffered a setback Monday as members of the county’s finance committee declined to endorse a request for Power Line Impact fee funds.
As part of the Arrowhead to Weston transmission line project, Taylor County receives impact fees which are placed in a fund and disbursed as grants to help fund recreational and community projects. Under county rules, applications are reviewed by the finance committee in September and March of each year. Committee members have the option to recommend the project receive funds, recommend a different amount than the request or send it to the full county board without a recommendation showing they do not support it. At the county board level, it takes a two-thirds majority of the board to approve grants for projects.
The proposed dog park was one of five requests made to the committee and one of two projects that did not get endorsed for funding with other requests being passed onto the full board with recommendations for partial or full funding. Carla Huston, director of the Jean M. Thomsen Memorial Library in Stesonville was the first to present a request. The library was asking for $6,250 to establish a Maker Space in the community room at the library. This space provides resources to young people to exercise their imaginations and creativity in creating new things.
Huston noted that they are always looking for new sources of revenue especially as costs go up but funding levels remain steady. She said the goal would be to get the program started and seek outside donations in the future to purchase materials as needed.
“I have a soft spot for libraries,” said committee chairman Chuck Zenner, cautioning committee members that giving to one library could open the door to all the libraries in the county requesting funds. Libraries are supported at the county level through a special levy on towns and villages that do not support their own library.
“I don’t think this would be a bad precedent to set for this money,” said committee member Ray Soper making a motion to fund the full request of $6,250 and passing it on to the full board.
Medford Dog Park board members Naomi Hartl and Huston did not have as much success in presenting a $65,000 request to fund the construction of the dog park.
The group is in the process of getting its 501c3 status for Nestle to donate an eight-acre parcel between the railroad tracks in Medford and the Campus Woods County Park located on the south side of College Street in the city of Medford. Hartl said they have reached out to Rep. Tom Tiffany’s office to expedite the process with the IRS so that the transfer can take place during this fiscal year.
According to Hartl, access to the dog park would be through the Campus Trail and a spur going into the meadow area.
Hartl said the biggest financial burden for the group is the purchase and installation of fencing. “Without the fence we have no park,” she said.
In addition there will be waste disposal stations, benches and eventually the goal to have a pavilion at the site.
Hartl said that while they had hoped to also have access from the west over the railroad tracks, Nestle has future development plans in that area and so that idea was dropped.
Rather than breaking out one area where they were asking for funds, the dog park organizers presented a request for the estimated budget for the complete dog park. Hartl noted that fencing was almost half of the total costs and the and the rest is what they would like to accomplish.
Huston noted they have seen overwhelming support from people they have talked to about the dog park with many people expressing willingness to help with its upkeep.
Soper questioned if they had done any other fundraising for it. Committee members responded that they have talked to a few banks and had just under $2,000 donated not including a forthcoming donation from a local industry. Many donations are waiting for the group to get its nonprofit status.
“I am not sure if the trail is the best entrance for it,” Zenner said, suggesting that there may be a way to access the property directly on the west end of the Campus Woods.
Zenner noted that they were asking for $65,000 from the county and asked if the city was giving any money. Hartl responded that the city has committed to donate the labor to install the fence.
Zenner also set the tone questioning the value a proposed dog park would bring to rural county residents who run their dogs on their own properties or walk them along the roads. “I have no intention of bringing my dog there,” he said. “I see this more as a city of Medford project.”
Huston disagreed noting that younger people travel to take dogs to dog parks around the region and that there are people who regularly travel from here to places just to access dog parks.
Huston said that if they collaborate with the city it would be turning control over to the city. “It is not something we want to do,” she said, explaining why they chose to form their own nonprofit to build, own and operate the park.
Soper also questioned the location and what impact it would have for use in the Ag Center parking lot. He also questioned the plan to require people to walk a half mile from the parking lot to access the park. “I don’t think it is a well thought out approach to the entrance,” he said.
Hartl said the parking would not be an issue considering the relatively little use of the Campus Trail currently. She also said the additional distance on the trail would serve to provide an excuse for more people to get out and exercise.
County board member Rollie Thums said that while he thought it was a nice project and praised their work in it expressed concern at the amount being asked for and reiterated Zenner’s observation that it is a city issue versus one that would benefit the entire county. He said he thought the group was premature in asking for funding before having done more fundraising work on their own.
Huston said they have talked a great deal with the city and that this is their first go-to in seeking funding for the project. She said they had been advised to “go big” in their grant request with the hope of receiving something from the county.
“I simply did the budget with what our end goal was. Now it is in your hands,” Huston said.
Soper agreed with Thums saying he thought it was premature to come to the committee. He said usually projects are a little more along and they would match other dollars raised. “Being first off at bat is not a good place for us to be,” he said.
Huston and Hartl suggested that if the committee did not want to give the full $65,000 request, they would be willing to fund the $31,000 estimated cost for the fence. “That is necessary, we can’t do anything until we get that,” Hartl said.
Zenner made the motion to support giving $5,000 to the dog park. The motion died without a second. The request will now go to the full county board without any recommendation.
Soper suggested they come back when they are further along with the project.
Thums presented a request from Rib Lake Fish and Game for funding of a trailer to store a weed cutting boat to control the weed level on Rib Lake.
Thums explained that there has been a cyclical weed issue on the lake with naturally occurring vegetation clogging it up and making it a challenge for recreational users. A private individual donated $53,900 to purchase a weed cutter for the lake and the Rib Lake Fish and Game group secured the necessary permits for the weed removal as well as contributing $10,000 to the project. The Rib Lake Development group contributed $15,000 toward the project and the Inland Lakes District is covering the upkeep of the equipment.
Thums said the $25,000 he is asking for from the county would be used to purchase a special trailer to allow them to take the cutter from the lake and store it over the winter months in a village building where it would be safe from weather and vandalism. He also noted that while he could not speak for the organization, there was the potential for it to also be used to do weed control at other lakes in the county.
“Is this like a thumb in the dike type thing?” Soper asked, about trying to control the weeds. Thums said that in the past they were able to get the lake free of weeds after being aggressive in cutting them for a period of time.
Soper noted that the group has put a lot of time and money into the project and saw it as being more of a county-wide thing. He made the motion to recommend giving $10,000 to Rib Lake Fish and Game to help with the trailer purchase.
Billie Hartwig and Doug Gasek presented on behalf of Huey’s Hideaway, which was seeking funding to help with a rotating exhibit display. Gasek explained the impact COVID-19 has had on the museum’s operations and that they are taking steps to revamp exhibits and bring people back. Hartwig said they have lowered the cost of membership to help raise membership numbers and that they are looking at areas that are underrepresented in the community.
Zenner noted that this was the third time Huey’s was requesting money from the county and that to this point the county has given Huey’s $30,000.
“Is there ever a point you will see this as being self sufficient?” Zenner asked.
Gasek was optimistic that they are getting better on their finances and are looking into more grant opportunities and revenue streams.
Committee member Cathy Lemke said she did not support giving Huey’s more money at this time, noting that it seemed that every time they needed something they were turning to the county.
Zenner said he would like to see giving them something and made a motion to give them $5,000. “Right now, I would say no,” Soper said. The motion failed without a second and the request goes to the full county board without a recommendation.
The final request at the meeting came from Jessica Mudgett of Taylor County Supportive Housing asking for $10,000 to help with renovation costs for the Taylor House Homeless Shelter project. Specifically she was looking for funds to help cover the replacement of the sidewalk from the street to the building.
Zenner noted that Mudgett had said the project would not require additional county money. “Now you are asking for county money,” he said.
Mudgett said that the costs came in higher than they had anticipated them to be. She said that the Taylor County Supportive Housing serves a large number of people and that they needed to provide a safe way to get into the building.
Zenner said he did not feel it was proper to use power line funds for the project since they have more typically sought to use the funds for recreational-type projects.
Lemke said she felt they should do something to help the project and that she would like to see it go to the full board. “I am not totally on board, but I think Cathy is right,” Soper said, noting he felt it was important enough to send to the full board. He cautioned that he might still vote against it at the board level.
The motion passed to send the request to the full county board with the recommendation of the committee.
In other business, committee members:
_ Approved transferring $15,000 from the county’s contingency fund to the information technology department to cover the additional costs associated with the implementation of the computerized time keeping software. Due to the complexity of scheduling and accounting of hours for law enforcement and human services additional support for the program was needed. The total project will have cost about $300,000 to implement when it is done.
_ Began the budget review process reviewing the budget requests from the human services, sheriff’s department and highway departments. All of them came in with budgets that met the zero percent increase requested. The county is awaiting word on health insurance premium costs in order to finalize budget numbers. County finance director Larry Brandl said the current proposed budget is about $600,000 out of balance, but said there are quite a few areas that can be adjusted to make up the difference. The county remains under state levy limits.