By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — The Village of Colfax will not be levying a fine against business owners who leave their doors unlocked at night or on weekends.
On a vote of 4 “no” to 3 “yes” at the October 14 meeting, the Colfax Village Board declined to create an ordinance that would require any businesses that leave their doors unlocked more than a certain number of times in a 12-month period to pay a fee.
According to a report from Colfax Police Chief Pete Gehring, over the past year, the Colfax Police Department has found unlocked doors at businesses nearly 100 times.
Out of those incidents — 92 in all — three businesses have been guilty of leaving their doors unlocked 77 percent of the time, according to a report from Police Chief Gehring that was included in the village board’s packet of information.
That means three businesses are responsible for leaving their doors unlocked 70 times — or that each of the three businesses have left the doors unlocked an average of two times per month.
In his letter to the village board dated October 10, Police Chief Gehring wrote: “I am suggesting the village create an ordinance that requires any business to pay a fee for open doors after a certain number within a 12-month period. This would give them an incentive to check their own doors at closing.”
Jackie Ponto, village administrator-clerk-treasurer, said the village has an ordinance about alarm systems in businesses but nothing pertaining to doors.
The village has an ordinance for habitual offenders who routinely do not respond to their alarms, and if the business does not respond to the alarm, after so many incidents, there is a fee, she said.
“If the police find the door unlocked and you don’t do something, that’s your problem,” said Rick Johnson, village trustee.
“That’s what I was thinking,” chimed in Mike Buchner, village trustee.
“If I am a business owner who does not lock my doors, it is my own fault,” said Annie Schieber, village trustee.
The police officers take time to check the doors when they could be doing something else, Buchner noted.
Checking doors is something the police officers do as part of their job, said Mark Halpin, village trustee.
“It has reached the point where (Police Chief Gehring) believes we need to do something more formal. This has been going on for years … I don’t have an issue creating an ordinance, and if they don’t want to abide by it, they can make a donation (to the village by paying a fine),” he said.
With or without an ordinance, the police officers still have to take the time to check the doors, and it takes the same amount of time whether the door is locked or not, Buchner said.
Actually, the police officers have to wait for the business owner to get there to make sure the door gets locked or else they have to get permission from the business owner to lock the door, Ponto said.
“They have to call the business owner and wait. They won’t physically lock the door unless they have permission. It does take up some time,” she said.
“Isn’t it the business owner’s responsibility to lock the door?” Schieber asked.
Scott Gunnufson, village president, said he agreed with Schieber but also noted that if the door to a business is not locked and the police department does not discover it and does not call the business owner to lock the door and merchandise ends up stolen, the village could be held liable.
“To protect ourselves in that case, then it makes more sense for an ordinance,” he said.
Halpin recalled that a few years ago, Cenex had an open door either on a Saturday or Sunday morning, and once it was discovered, the county was called and two vehicles from the county responded, and Police Chief Gehring also was called.
“Think what that cost was to go through the proper protocol,” he said.
Schieber recalled working at a bar and walking in one morning at 9 a.m. and there were two people at the bar, sitting there drinking beer.
“I asked them what they were doing. They said the door was unlocked,” she said.
Halpin noted that every time the police department finds an unlocked business door, he or she must fill out a report.
The time that the police officer has to wait until the business owner arrives and the time to fill out paperwork on the unlocked door is something everyone in the village pays for, Halpin said.
“It’s no different than when the parking tickets were $5, but the paperwork cost more than $5 to do,” he said.
“I guarantee once someone pays a fine, they will remember,” Halpin said.
“If they lose thousands of dollars worth of merchandise, they will remember,” Buchner said.
Rick Johnson, village trustee, pointed out that when there was a rash of burglaries from unlocked cars, the police department put a notice in the paper reminding people to lock their cars.
“If it’s getting to the point where we have to babysit business owners if they can’t lock their doors or their employees can’t keep their doors locked, that’s just the way it’s going to have to be,” Johnson said.
Halpin pointed out that it can potentially be a dangerous situation for people arriving at work in the morning when the door has been left open overnight because no one knows who might be lurking inside the business.
Cenex has been broken into many times, and if the door is unlocked, and they don’t know who is in there, it should be checked out, Johnson said.
The motion to create an ordinance for unlocked commercial properties failed on a vote of four trustees against the idea and three in favor.
Buchner, Schieber, Beverly Schauer and Johnson voted “no” on the motion.
Gunnufson and village trustees Susan Olson and Halpin voted in favor of the motion.
In other business, the Colfax Village Board:
• Waived the fee for renting the fairgrounds for the Colfax High School Student Council Homecoming bon fire on October 8.
• Approved forwarding an ordinance to the plan commission for granting the village board the authority to name and rename streets in the village by resolution.
• Approved forwarding to the plan commission renaming Park Drive. The village has three Park Drives: Park Drive at the fairgrounds; Park Drive that goes past the new nursing home; and Park Drive between the car wash and the storage units. The village’s attorney has recommended sending out notices to all village residents when name changes are being considered.
• Approved a professional services agreement with HyrdoDesigns for the cross connection inspections for commercial and industrial properties in 2014 at a cost of $539 per month or $6,468 per year. Commercial properties must be inspected every two years, noted Rand Bates, director of public works. Village employees have been trained to do the residential inspections, but the commercial inspections are more complicated, he said. Some larger municipalities are sending city employees to school to learn how to do the commercial inspections, Bates noted.
• Approved purchasing the wood for repairing the bleachers at Tom Prince Memorial Park at a cost of $1,220.
• Approved a contract with Cedar Corporation for administering the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) residential program.
• Learned that Adam Vnuk, who had been employed as a 30-hour-per-week EMT, has resigned. The public safety committee authorized advertising for the position. A personnel committee meeting was scheduled for 6 p.m. on October 21 to interview candidates for the position.
• Approved Colfax’s participation in the Consolidated Group Safety Management Program from Advanced Safety Technology, Inc., that is offered through the Wisconsin Rural Water Association. The program deals with safety issues such as confined entry. The village will pay a one-time fee of $3,500 and will split the cost of training sessions with other municipalities in the area, including Baldwin, Boyceville, Clear Lake, Elk Mound, Durand, Glenwood City and Hammond. The program will keep Colfax in compliance with all the new rules and regulations, Bates said.
• Approved a bid of $725 from Riemer Construction to construct a wall in the administrator-clerk-treasurer’s office. Bates noted that he has heard comments about the village contracting with Riemer Construction since Sheila Riemer is the deputy clerk treasurer. Bates pointed out that he has called different contractors to get bids for different projects but that no one returns his calls. Ponto noted that the clerk-treasurer’s office also has called different contractors to get bids for different projects, but that no one else has returned those calls, either.