By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — The Dunn County Board has approved a five-year contract with the Red Cedar Racing Association for car races at the Red Cedar Speedway in the Dunn County Rec Park.
Questions remain, however, about how noise and curfew violations should be enforced for the auto races that are held on Friday evenings starting in April and throughout the summer.
During the public comments portion of the Dunn County Board’s March 18 meeting, several people who live near the rec park said that while they did not expect the county board to reject the proposed contract, they wanted the contract’s rules enforced for noise levels and for the ending of races at 11 p.m.
Those who spoke said that they had tried to file complaints with the Menomonie Police Department and the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department and were told by both agencies that the races were not in the jurisdiction of either.
Ryland Erdman, a member of the Menomonie City Council, said he had been contacted by residents in the area and had then contacted the Menomonie Police Department and the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department.
At one point, Erdman said, he had been told to contact himself to deal with the complaints — eliciting a burst of laughter from the Dunn County Board.
The contract does not include any information about who will enforce the rules, who will be held accountable, who a citation would be sent to, and who would receive the complaint, he said.
The Menomonie Police Department, Erdman said, would not make a written record of the complaint.
The Red Cedar Racing Association should be contacted when someone complains, even if no citation is written, he said.
One Friday evening last summer, an outdoor event at the Menomonie Public Library on the other side of Lake Menomin was drowned out by the races at the Red Cedar Speedway, Erdman said.
A number of people also spoke in favor of the Red Cedar Speedway races, stating that attending and participating in the races was a family tradition that encompassed several generations.
Those speaking in favor also mentioned the economic impact of the races and said the races were affordable family entertainment.
James Tripp, Dunn County Board supervisor from Menomonie, said he is a resident of the east side of Menomonie and is reconciled to living with the car races.
By the same token, Tripp said it is important for everyone to remember “there is a price for residents to pay for racing.”
Tripp said he would vote “no” on the resolution to approve the contract but that he was not naive enough to think the races will “go away.”
“Don’t kid yourself. Those people whose lives are disrupted (by the races) are not whackos,” he said.
Dunn County Sheriff Dennis Smith told the county board that the sheriff’s department is not authorized to issue citations for city ordinances.
Tim Mather, Dunn County Board supervisor from Menomonie, noted that the Red Cedar Racing Association will pay $4,500 per year to use the rec park for each of the five years of the new contract.
Many homeowners who cannot be out in their backyards during the races probably pay as much in property taxes as the racing association pays for a lease, he said.
There must be something that can be done “to knock the edge off” for people who live in the area, something to let people know their concerns have been heard and acknowledged, Mather said.
Steve Rasmussen, county board supervisor from Boyceville and chair of the Dunn County Board, suggested that Mather could offer an amendment to the contract or a motion to refer the contract back to the facilities committee.
Bob Walter, county board supervisor from Menomonie — who also happens to be an attorney — noted that the problem for law enforcement agencies is that they cannot enforce a contract.
Law enforcement agencies can only enforce laws or ordinances, and there is no ordinance pertaining to the rules of operation for the Red Cedar Racing Association, Walter said.
People living in the neighborhood should have been told that under the circumstances, with no ordinance in place, their recourse is to file a civil action, he said.
Walter said he would bring an ordinance to the Dunn County Board directing the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department to enforce the curfew for races at the rec park as well as the decibel limit.
Kitz Cleary, county board supervisor from Colfax, said she would like all residents to know what their recourse is if the races are perceived to be too loud or the races are operating past the 11 p.m. deadline.
Cleary noted that she lives about ten miles away from the rec park and can hear the races on Friday evenings at her home.
(While ten miles may seem rather farfetched, this reporter lives 12 miles from Menomonie, and under certain atmospheric conditions in the summer, also can clearly hear the races at the Red Cedar Speedway from her backyard.)
Gary Bjork, county board supervisor from Colfax, wondered why the previous contract was for $12,000 per year, but the current contract was reduced to $4,500 per year.
The cost of maintaining the restrooms has been shifted to the racing association, said Nick Lange, Dunn County corporation counsel.
In the past, Dunn County performed the maintenance on the restrooms. The new contract reflects the racing association’s addition of eight hours of manpower per week, he said.
Mather indicated that he wanted to amend the contract and approve it for a one-year term to allow the county time to write an ordinance to address the concerns of residents.
Gene Smith, county manager, along with several county board supervisors, objected to offering an amendment to the contract.
The resolution in front of the county board only approves the contract that has already been negotiated with the racing association and the facilities committee, Smith said.
If the county board wanted the contract to be amended, it would have to be sent back to the committee so that the contract could be negotiated again with the racing association, Smith said.
The first race is scheduled April 17, and a couple of county board members noted there would not be enough time to renegotiate the contract and get it approved by the county board before the start of the season.
Responding to a suggestion that the county board could approve the use of the rec park for one race or could use the previous contract, Lange said the old contract has expired, and he would not recommend allowing the races to take place with no signed contract.
All of the parties negotiated the contract in good faith, noted Mary Solberg, county board supervisor from Menomonie.
The Dunn County Board approved the contract with the Red Cedar Racing Association on a vote of 21 “yes” to six “no.” Two county board supervisors were absent from the meeting: Kelly McCullough and David Schaefer.
Those who voted against the motion in addition to Tripp and Mather were Carl Vandermeulen, Todd Welch, Dale Harschlip, and Donald Kuether.
According to the contract, the Red Cedar Racing Association will be assessed a penalty of $100 for each 15 minutes of racing after 11 p.m.
The contract sets the decibel levels at 115 and establishes that readings will be taken at the northwest corner of the grandstand on the walkway, and that it is the racing association’s responsibility to take readings.
The contract also establishes that Dunn County has the right to terminate the agreement at any time if the racing association fails to perform or observe any of the obligations contained in the contract.