Boulder Junction residents Thursday night gave town officials the green light to move forward with plans to construct a new community center.
The issue, whether or not to construct a new building at a cost not to exceed $2.3 million, was passed on a vote by the town’s electors, 157-110.
The new facility, projected to be 14,000 square feet once it’s completed, would provide more space for the town library, town office, police office and larger meeting room space. The existing building is approximately 9,300 square feet.
Over the course of a 20-year state trust fund loan for the building, the estimated interest rate, based on current market conditions, would be 3.75 percent.
Under that scenario, the cost to the taxpayer would be $30 per $100,000 of assessed value on their home.
That interest rate, according to financial consultants working with the building committee appointed by the town board in January, could end up being less.
Why not a referendum?
Prior to the vote, town chairman Charles Spencer gave a brief explanation as to why the vote was being done at a meeting of the town electors and not through building referendum, which had been one of the questions asked over the course of the last few months and was asked again at Thursday’s meeting.
“A lot of people have been calling me and my fellow supervisors, wondering why we just didn’t have a referendum,” he said. “State statutes do not allow us to raise taxes by any other means than by a meeting of the electors.”
Spencer said the only way that could be done was at a meeting of the town’s electors, or registered voters.
Only the electors, Spencer said, have the authority to raise taxes.
“It has to be done with you in this room, there’s no absentee voting,” he said. “It’s just the way the state was set up many, many years ago for townships.”
Spencer said it was unfortunate it’s done that way because people who are homebound don’t get to vote.
“It does require, I believe, a change in the state constitution to change the situation,” he said. “So, this is how we have to do it.”
Laying the ground rules
Spencer then proceeded to go over the ground rules for the meeting, including a chance for people to speak on the issue for a total of up to three minutes.
“This is your chance to ask questions or make your opinions known,” he said. “It’s not to be a debate tonight.”
Following a brief summary of the building project from building committee member Greg Vangrinsven, the floor was opened for those who wanted to speak.
There were questions about the meeting of the elector process as opposed to a building referendum, and questions about the need to replace the current structure based on some of the upcoming major maintenance issues, such as the need to address a new roof and air conditioning system.
Boulder Junction resident Betty Clouth, a Lioness, highlighted some of the problems she has seen at the existing facility during her time volunteering for various functions at different times of the year.
“Christmas time, that plumbing in the kitchen freezes,” she said. “Now, if anybody’s trying to cook in there in December when it’s 20 below zero, they know our plumbing is inadequate.”
Clouth said in the summer, there are times so many people use the restrooms, they back up.
“Our building is way old,” she said. “It needs to be established as a new building, a place that isn’t going to have all these problems that we run into.”
Nikki Kassien said she was proud of Boulder Junction and what was being attempted.
“That’s why I’m living here and raising my family here,” she said. “I would like to have a building that my child would be proud of and something that I’ll be proud of moving into the future and I think this is really positive for our town.”
In opposition to the project was resident Patricia Mabie, who began her comments emphasizing there was no need to make the town library larger.
“Yesterday’s libraries were all about books and tomorrow’s libraries will be about electronic readers,” she read from prepared text.
“How much shelf space do electronic readers need?” Mabie asked. “None. The use of printed materials is decreasing because of digitization.”
That eliminates the need for shelves in libraries, she said.
“Libraries are doing more with less, which means less room or less space,” she said. “The town of Boulder Junction does not need a new library. Do more with less space.”
Mabie said she talked to the project architect who told her the new community center and library would be built close to County Highway M so people on the bike trail could see the library and make use of it.
Mabie said she had done some research on her own, talking with three major contractors in the state, including one central Wisconsin contractor who has experience constructing buildings similar to what was being proposed in Boulder Junction.
“All three said one never builds close to the road for obvious reasons,” she said. “The road sometimes is going to be widened.”
The building, Mabie said, always is to be built as far back from the road as possible.
“It is poor planning on someone’s part to build close to the road,” she said.
Mabie said she had also conducted her own survey of 63 people on the bike path at the junction of county highways M and N.
“Not one person indicated he or she will stop at the library for borrowing books or reading the paper,” she said. “In fact, they all laughed at me for asking such a stupid question.”
Mabie’s three minutes was up just as she was beginning to talk about the cost of the project and to ask how the town was to come up with the money to pay for it over 20 years.
“The taxpayers of Boulder Junction cannot afford another tax increase,” she said, as people in the audience were saying her time to speak was up. “You’re asking for taxpayers’ revolt,” she concluded.
There was one more question from an audience member who asked if there was going to be a full-time custodian hired by the town to care for the new building.
Spencer responded to the negative.
“We have a private contractor who comes in here and no benefits are paid whatsoever,” he said.
Call for the vote
Following that, the call for the vote was made and lines formed at tables at the rear of the room where voters could get their ballots and cast their votes.
Following the vote count and approval by voters of the project, town board member Dennis Reuss, also a non-voting member of the committee formed in January by the town board to get the project to this point, said he was pleased but the work has just begun.
“We have a lot of work to do,” he said. “We now need to prove to the public that we’re serious about doing everything we can to bring this in for less than the $2.3 million.”
Committee member Greg Vangrinsven agreed and had high praise for his fellow committee members.
“It was a great effort, it feels great to have the vote of confidence,” he said. “I see a very bright future for Boulder Junction.”
Brian Jopek may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.