Tuesday evening, Merrill’s Common Council approved a sale of the former Fox Point Sportswear property at 1905 E. 14th St. (CTH G) in the amount of $200,000, to the Merrill Area Housing Authority (MAHA).
The sale includes a two-phase development agreement of at least 24 residential apartment units to be constructed by 2020 as part of phase one, and an additional 40 units to follow; as part of phase two. Construction of phase one would begin in Fiscal Year 2018 to be completed by 2019. Phase two of the project is currently in the planning stages.
The city originally purchased the property last fall for $450,000, with the intent to develop residential apartment units with the assistance of MAHA and the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) Tax Credits. That plan fell through last month when the application for WHEDA Tax Credits did not meet minimum selection criteria.
MAHA and Executive Director Paul Russell returned to the discussion table with the city on June 27, with the $200,000 purchase offer.
Provisions of the development agreement include an additional $100,000 payment from MAHA to the city, in the event MAHA is unable to initiate phase 2 of the agreement by the year 2020 deadline. The remaining $150,000 (of the original $450,000 payment from the city) was paid for environmental and demolition costs to make the property a “clean and marketable site.” Being such costs are common with property purchases involving existing structures, the city did not consider the cost recoupable.
As part of discussion during the Committee of the Whole meeting prior to the Council convening, 2nd District Alderman Pete Lokemoen spoke in favor of the measure, given the city is recouping the expenses of the original investment. The measure ultimately passed 7-1; 6th District alderwoman Mary Ball standing opposed.
Also during Tuesday’s Committee of the Whole meeting, city Finance Director Kathy Unertl gave the annual (2016) update on the status and financial standing of the city’s Tax Increment Districts (TID). As part of her presentation, Unertl advised year-to-date the city’s TIDs have generated $28.4 million since 2005, with expenditures standing at $2.8 million; resulting in a 10:1 ratio on return versus investment. Among the highlights of her presentation, was the projection that the new Nortrax facility on South Pine Ridge Avenue is expected to generate $2.8 million in new tax revenue for the city.
In addition, the new Park City Credit Union development is expected to generate $200,000 in tax revenue for TID #3 on the city’s east side; projected to be realized in fiscal year 2020.
TIDs #3 and #4 (vicinity of North Pine Ridge Avenue) have seen substantial growth as well. The significant overall success of the city’s TIDs are projected to fund an east side industrial park and extension of North Pine Ridge Avenue to CTH G.
As part of Tuesday’s Council meeting, an amendment was considered to the city’ nepotism policy; as a recommendation by the city Personnel and Finance Committee.
The amendment reworded the policy reading:
“Hiring an immediate family member of any current city employee or elected city official is discouraged and will be considered only if that individual has the knowledge and skills, experience or other job-related qualifications that warrant consideration for the position. It is required that either the current employee or the relative seeking employment will make the personal interest relationship known to the hiring authority (department head, city board or commission or common council) before a hiring decision is made; in every case, the decision to hire an immediate family member or former spouse will be subject to common council approval, with notice, before the new employee is permitted to begin work. Marriage between two individuals already employed by the city or their relatives will not be considered a violation of this policy.
To the amendment of:
“Members of immediate families may not be employed in a direct superior/subordinate relationship. When applicants who are relatives of the selecting official, are reached for appointment in the conventional manner, the selection should be deferred to the next higher administrative level. This policy is not for the purpose of depriving any citizen of an equal opportunity to City employment. It is solely to eliminate the possibility of preferential treatment in favor of relatives or to subject the employing authority to possible criticism. Nothing in this Ordinance affects persons so employed prior to its effective date.”
The amendment was vehemently challenged by city resident Derek Woellner during public comment.
Woellner challenged what he deemed as the mayor and council members failing to enforce city law and protect the residents of the city. Woellner alleged city officials using their “influence to get their family members hired on the tax payer’s dime.”
Woellner challenged the city’s Personnel and Finance Committee’s decision to recommend the amendment, based on his feelings of the city seeking to “change the law” to affect the city’s employee handbook.
“If we are going to start changing the law to affect the handbook, I think we have our priorities backwards,” he stated.
Although not opposed to the amendment, Lokemoen suggested more opportunities for involvement by the council in the future, regarding policy and employee handbook decision making.
“As officials elected by the people, I would like to see the council be allowed to make a statement regarding ordinances in the future,” he said.
The amendment ultimately passed 7-1; 5th District alderman and Council President John Burgener dissenting.