Last Tuesday, the Lincoln County Board of Supervisors approved a recommendation from the Lincoln County Public Property Committee, to offer the sale of the Lincoln County Fairgrounds, to the City of Merrill for one dollar.
Tuesday evening, The Merrill Courier contacted members of the Merrill Common Council in an effort to poll insight on the potential sale.
Following are council member responses:
First District Alderperson Chris Malm:
“I, and probably the majority of Merrill residents, know and appreciate the value the fairgrounds provides as an asset usable in many ways for the benefit of our community and county as a whole. The proper care and promotion of the fairgrounds holds not only a significant future potential that we can imagine, but maybe even potential we are not currently able to know. That possibility is indeed exciting to say the least.
“What I believe is critical, however, and what I will be working hard to demonstrate in the Council’s consideration of a possible transaction with the County, is that the correct way of owning and executing management of the property is found.
“Governments, including ours, have generally demonstrated the ability to execute and perform their core functions like safety and protective services, street maintenance and water treatment adequately, but not necessarily any beyond. Of this the County has provided sufficient evidence.
“My hope is we can develop an agreement with the County to set the Fairgrounds future course on solid ground with management and oversight in the hands of experienced and dedicated volunteers and professionals, not city government.
“My other hope is we get the opportunity to comprehensively investigate other successful methods used by quasi-governmental bodies to marshal public assets, while exploiting all the opportunities the private and for-profit sectors knows best how to find. The agreements between the City of Merrill and the River District Foundation of Merrill, done recently as part of developing the River Bend Trail, may themselves provide some guidance.
“What I am not able to support is a quick, boiler-plate type purchase under an unreasonable time constraint just to quell the doubters, give the appearance of progress, and just get the purchase done ‘because we don’t have a choice and so we can figure it out later.’
“That would be a bad move.
“It needs to be done correctly from the start while protecting the financial integrity of the city and its responsibility to the taxpayers who will pay immediately for any mistakes.”
2nd District Alderperson Pete Lokemoen:
“The tax payers of the city of Merrill should not have to front the entire cost of the management and maintenance of the fairgrounds property. Therefore I will make a motion to respond with a counter offer, for the county to provide funding for maintenance for an x number of years into the future.”
3rd District Alderman Ryan Schwartman:
“While I feel the ownership of the fairgrounds will be best placed in the hands of the city, I look forward to public comments and the upmcoming meeting. I look forward to hearing concerns and other opinions on the matter.”
4th District Alderwoman Kandy Peterson:
Could not be reached for comment.
5th District Alderman John Burgener:
Was contacted but opted to not comment. “I don’t feel this is the proper time to do this. I don’t feel it’s right.”
6th District Alderman Dave Sukow:
“This is a tough situation,” Sukow stated. “The city will never make money on the fairgrounds, and I think we knew that coming into this.
“That is probably one reason why the county got rid of it. The fairgrounds is being given to us for a dollar, but the problem is; the buildings have been let go for so long! Most of the buildings have been assessed and have been rated from poor to very poor condition. One or two buildings may be in fair condition, but overall the grounds are in bad shape.
“I agree, taking over the fairgrounds would be an amenity to the city of Merrill. But the big question is, to what burden does the fairgrounds pose on our tax payers?” Sukow asked. “Can our tax payers handle yet another bill? Especially our tax payers who have a fixed income? Can they afford another tax increase?”
7th District Alderperson Rob Norton:
“The county hasn’t done anything in four years and I know the city has to step up to the plate and take it over.
“I know the fairgrounds will need to be subsidized, and I know it will never be a money maker.
“I feel community members need to realize; if they want the city to take over the fairgrounds, their taxes will be increased. That is the bottom line. If the constituents and residents of the city are ok with that, then that’s one push forward for the city taking ownership of the fairgrounds.”
8th District Alderperson Tim Meehean:
Could not be reached for comment.
City Administrator Dave Johnson:
“While the City assuming ownership and maintenance of the fairgrounds is not my preferred choice I believe that it is the only choice we have at this time to preserve the fairgrounds as a viable entity. While the County cannot quickly sell the fairgrounds as threatened because finding a buyer won’t be as easy as some think, they can retain the $1.22 million that is needed to re-build the grandstand which will effectively kill the fairgrounds as a viable event venue. Right now the City is the only entity in a position to accept ownership of the fairgrounds. As a result of conversations I have had with many individuals I believe that many individuals and groups in the community will step forward to support the fairgrounds once it is out of County hands and in the hands of an entity (the City) they feel they can work with.”
The Merrill Committee of the Whole will consider the Fairgrounds purchase at its regular monthly meeting on June 2 at 6:30 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall.