In a unanimous vote Thursday, Minocqua electors authorized the town to buy half an acre of land next to Torpy Park for $300,000.
The decision occurred by a hand vote at the town’s annual meeting; no enumerated tally was taken.
The property, at 815 U.S. Highway 51, between the park and BJ’s Sport Shop, is nearly 26,000 square feet – just more than half an acre – and offers about 85 feet of frontage along Minocqua Lake.
A final decision has not been made on how the site would be used, but officials say the land could supplement town parking and provide more green space. A public pier could also be installed.
Earlier this month, the town board entered into a conditional offer to purchase the property from Minocqua Land Investments, but that offer was contingent on the outcome of Thursday’s meeting. By state law, towns must obtain consent from electors to buy and sell land.
The town will take out a loan to fund the deal.
At the annual meeting, numerous members of the public spoke out in support of the purchase.
“As a representative of a lake association, I think this would be fantastic if you could get this property instead of a condo going up,” one person said. “We don’t need more docks.”
Said another person: “I personally think it’s a great buy.”
Don Gauger, a former town chairperson, said the town had long had its eye on the property, but the price in previous years was prohibitive.
“The fact that the price right now is really a very, very good price for the town to purchase it, and in light of the fact that the interest rates are at such a point where they are today, which would save more money, I think that piece of property certainly is a big asset the town should purchase,” Gauger said.
One woman expressed concern with how much of the land would be used for parking. Minocqua Town Chairman Mark Hartzheim said there would be meetings about what specifically will be done with the site, but that other people had also felt the property should be principally green space and that any parking areas should be limited.
Another person noted that a gas station might at one time have been located on the land. Hartzheim said an environmental assessment is planned for the property.
William Gardner, owner of Minocqua Land Investments, said in an interview after the vote that he was happy with the overwhelming support of town electors.
“I didn’t think there was going to be a big negative, but you never know,” he said.
Gardner said he had never sold a property to a town before. He also said that he did not specifically intend to buy the land, but rather acquired it through receivership of Rynders Realty.
In 2005, Rynders purchased the land for $670,000.
“The piece of property did not fit what we were in to,” Gardner said. “It was surplus to us.”
Gardner said he had paid and invested $319,000 into the property.
An independent appraisal by the town found the property worth $305,500 – an assessment that did not take into consideration a deteriorating structure that would likely be torn down.
Reacting to the vote, Hartzheim said he expected the purchase to pass but had not anticipated the decision would be unanimous. He said he had heard a few voices of opposition to the transaction prior the meeting.
“I’m always glad to see that level of support for something in the community,” Hartzheim said. “When the community is that strongly behind something, I think it’s a good thing but you feel even better when there’s that strong of support that the community is not divided.
The sale could be finalized by early June, according to Hartzheim.
Electors last year approved the town’s purchase of land on West Milwaukee Street across from the Campanile Center for the Arts for $55,000 to bolster public parking. The site, a 60-foot lot, added 20 parking spaces.
Also on Thursday, town electors voted to give the town chairperson and clerk positions each a $1,000 raise. That raise will not take effect until next April when both positions, which are elected, will start new terms.
The elector who made the motion for the raises, Micaela Inman, said in an interview that she believed Hartzheim and town Clerk Roben Haggart were underpaid given the demands of their jobs, both of which are full time.
“Having a background in human resource management, salary and benefit analysis, it just seems to me that the fiscal responsibility they have in addition to the overall responsibilities, that they’re underpaid,” Inman said. “And I think even with the $1,000 in addition, it’s still not enough. In private industry you couldn’t hire someone to take care of that much responsibility for that pay.”
The annual salary at present for Hartzheim and Haggart is about $42,000 each not including health insurance and other benefits.
Inman said she did not come to the meeting intending to offer the pay raises, and that she did not have a personal relationship with either Hartzheim or Haggart.
Hartzheim said he appreciated the raise and the thinking behind it. He noted that the action was a compliment not just for him and Haggart, but a statement about the positions in general.
“This is a pretty big job with a lot of responsibilities,” Hartzheim said. “We’re a pretty big community compared to most townships in the state.”
Haggart declined comment on the salary increase.
Jonathan Anderson may be reached at email@example.com.