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St. Croix County approves land sale; resolution moves forward on a 10-8 vote

By Jon Echternacht from the New Richmond News

The St. Croix County Board of Supervisors stepped up to the plate again to address the question of selling county land for a capital projects fund Tuesday, Jan. 8, and passed the resolution by a narrow margin.

Shortly before the clock struck noon Supervisor Fred Horne mercifully called the question after an exhaustive discussion period and the proposal passed by a 10-8 margin.

Travis Schachtner, Richard Ottino, Dave Ostness, Roger Larson, Fred Horne, Ron Kiesler, Joe Hurtgen and Brian Hurtgen voted against the measure.

Capital projects to benefit from the sale include relocation of the 911 Call Center, vacating, demolition and clean-up of the Health and Human Services building in New Richmond and relocation of the employees.

The resolution was tabled at the Dec. 4 meeting after some discussion.

In the meantime the proposal had made the rounds of various committees. “Over the past month, the staff has worked with the standing committees on this item,” said Administrator Pat Thompson.

“Items in the strategic plan are addressed by this action,” Thompson said.

The administrator said since 2001 the county has spent more than $170,000 on a number of studies looking over the land issue in one way or another.

“This is not a fire sale, it’s a well thought out plan,” he said.

Auctioneers Barry Hager, Ellsworth, and Tim Prusak, Clayton, addressed the board and pitched the concept of an auction for obtaining the highest price for the agricultural property.

“We are in a perfect storm today.  We are in all time low interest rates, all time high corn and soybean prices, farmers are earning record high profits,” said Hager, who has been an auctioneer for 35 years.

Thompson said Hager and Prusak were not under contract, rather invited to explain the process.

The resolution faced an amendment before it hit the floor that involved a reconstruction of the language by Supervisor Buck Malick who introduced it at the last meeting then refined it Tuesday.

The amendment to give the board final approval on spending the proceeds from a sale passed by a 15-3 margin, Daryl Standafer, Schachtner and Ottino voted against.

Horne, who recused himself from voting on the measure last month because he is mayor of New Richmond where most of the property is located, said the city would not be involved in any purchase of the land and returned to the voting ranks.

Horne introduced an amendment to hold out 180 acres of the 554 for sale.

He said the parcels are along a four-lane highway that would be more valuable than selling it as agricultural. “It would be more beneficial to the taxpayer,” he said.

Supervisor Fred Yoerg said there was no secret about the location of the property therefore any buyer would know the potential value.

Auctioneer Hager said it was a “given” investors would know the potential for the land.

“I don’t think St. Croix County is in the real estate and development business,” said Yoerg.

Horne’s amendment failed on a 14-4 vote.

County Board Notes:

• The board adopted a resolution authorizing changes in the fund balance policy by a 14-4 margin. Tim Hood, Yoerg, Kilber and Ottino voted against. “I have heartburn setting up these separate funds,” said Hood. Supervisor Tom Hawksford was absent.

• Approved a resolution to adopt a new county outdoor recreation plan for 2013-17 by a 15-3 margin. Agnes Ring said the last outdoor recreation plan was adopted in 2006.

• Approved the community development department to apply for 2013 lake management planning grants by a 16-2 margin.

• Passed a resolution supporting development of a state highway maintenance memorandum of understanding by a 17-1 margin.

• Unanimously passed a resolution to promote enhanced intergovernmental efforts and best use of taxpayer resources.

• Passed a resolution urging state legislators to vote in favor of transportation dollars going toward transportation issues exclusively 17-1.

• Unanimously approved Deborah Lindemann as public health officer. Lindemann, a 21-year resident of the county, was a public nurse for 15 years previously before taking a position in Eau Claire County. She takes over the position vacated when Wendy Kramer recently retired.

• Elizabeth Rohl was introduced as the new assistant corporation counsel. She is a native of River Falls with an undergraduate degree in psychology and a law degree from Michigan State. She recently served as an assistant district attorney for the county. “I’m very excited to work with county and (corporate counsel) Don Gillan,” Rohl said.

• Randy Simonson of Harvestime Outreach Church in Hudson gave the invocation.

• The supervisors set the next regular meeting for March 5 at 9 a.m.