September 29, 2009

Village Hall pricetag upsets Mt. Pleasant taxpayers;
Board, committee put decision off for a week

Taxpayer gives the village board a tongue-lashing

Matt Wolfert put the issue very simply last night: "You're getting a $15 million building for $5 million."

Um... not so fast, Mr. Architect!

The Mt. Pleasant taxpayers who showed up to watch the Village Board choose between their architects' three options -- a 75,000 sq. ft. village hall/police station/community and court complex costing $15.5 million, a scaled back 65,000 sq. ft. version costing $13.1 million or a 50,000 sq. ft. version costing $10.5 million -- had another idea...or two:

Spend no more than the $10 million donated to the village for the project. Oh, and what about the Public Works Department; why isn't space for them included in this project? And what about the village's rule that any project costing more than $10 million has to go before a referendum?

Taxpayer after taxpayer stood up at the joint meeting of the Village Board and the Building Committee -- a meeting ostensibly called to set a budget so the architects can design the complex, so it can be put out to bid while contractors are hungry for work (and presumably willing to work cheap), so -- ultimately -- the village can break ground in March and vacate its existing municipal complex by February 2011 as its sales contract with Pick 'n Save requires.

Citizens weren't buying. Ultimately, Village President Carolyn Milkie bowed to will of taxpayers present and put off the decision until the board and committee meet again, next Monday at 6 p.m. Getting to that point was often heated, as the board engaged in a dialogue with many of the 40 or so citizens who filled the meeting room. They sat attentively as Wolfert, and Stephen Kuhnen of Bray Associates Architects, showed two concept drawings of the project, which will be built on land the village bought along 90th Street: one a one-story building and the other two-stories. In both versions, the village hall and police station flank community space in the middle.

Site plan for 75,000 sq. ft., one-story village hall concept

"These are just space concepts," Kuhnen explained. "We need budget parameters in place, so we can get our hands around how big this project will be." The $15.5 million plan included a 14,387 sq. ft. village hall, 47,164 sq. ft. police station and 13,914 sq. ft. shared space with courtroom. (The present village hall has 9,000 sq. ft; the current police station has 12,000 sq. ft.) Architects suggested a "geothermal" heating and cooling system -- "higher initial cost but lower operating cost with energy efficiencies. But the niceties of design didn't concern the audience. Rather, they were focused on cost ... and whether the village's population growth required anything nearly as big, as expensive, as is being considered. They weren't at all shy about lecturing the board.

"I'm ashamed of our supervisors," said Maynard Olson. "You should be ashamed of yourselves." His point was that the board "was not honoring" the $10 million gift it received for the new village hall, by spending more than was given. "We're in a recession, and there are a lot of people in a depression."

Robert Strausser said the project is "very irresponsible," especially in a time when the village has a hiring freeze and not enough firemen. "Our services stink," he said, adding that once the new complex is built "are we going to hire more people? Will we have an increased levy, an increased mill rate, increased fees?"

Tom Meltzer called the project "a grandiose plan. We can do things incrementally. There'll be a wallowing economy for many years to come."

Dave Chorbajian said, "The Highway Department has to be included, because you're eliminating it when you close this building." He also said the village's timeline "is oppressive. You should have involved us sooner."

Seetha Denzien spoke about the "fantastic" $10 million gift. "We should not look down our noses at it; we should live within that gift, just as I have to live within my budget. We're asking that you stay within that gift."

Each of these comments -- and others along the same lines -- was met with applause from the audience, even as members of the building committee tried to defend the complex. Trustee Joe Clementi insisted that replacement of the village hall complex "is beyond necessary" and has been debated for 15 years. He spoke in favor of the 75,000 sq. ft. version -- arrived at after consultation with village employees -- but audience members responded with comments like "crazy," "it's too expensive," and "go back to the drawing board." Said Eleanor Boyd: "You've had your listening sessions, but you don't listen. We need more taxes like we need another hole in the head."

"It really looks huge," said Mike Denzien, who said the size was determined by staff "doing their wishlists."

Clementi, however, said "there's no question the existing facilities are beyond out-dated" and "we can do this without raising taxes." He toted up $17 million available: the $10 million gift, the $4.5 million sale price of the existing village hall complex and $2-$3 million in interest ... but those figures were disputed; all but $400,000 of the sales price is committed to a road project, for example, and the interest figure appears inflated as well.

Trustee Karen Albeck supported those in the audience who want to limit the project's cost. "I'd like to see us live within our budget, and not levy any new taxes," she said. And it was Trustee Sonny Havn who first suggested the board and building committee take some more time, "not too much more," to look again at how much space the village needs -- and how much it wants to spend.

Many in the audience said they plan to attend next week's meeting as well, and also questioned the legal opinion of village attorney John Shannon that no referendum is required. Village ordinances require one -- advisory, though it would be -- for any project costing more than $10 million. But Shannon's opinion, read by Milkie at the start of last night's meeting, says that a vote is only needed when more than $10 million of village funds are being spent -- and since this project is partially financed by that $10 million gift, well, it doesn't fall over that figure. It's a fine point that some hope to challenge.


  1. The moneys for the sale of the existing village hall property are going to retire the debt incurred when the village borrowed approx. 3.1 million for the 90 acres. So subtract the ficticious 4.4 million frum Clementi's estimate. And lose the millions in interest as well. Maybe 4 to 700,000? Now were back to around 11 million we have for this project. And he's on the damn committee, GOD HELP US!

  2. This would be a Taj Mahal. It looks like the building committee hasn't a clue to what is wanted or needed. Can 'em all. This committee never check with the Architects on the drawing before presenting it tonight. If so they would have seen there mistakes. They just want full steam ahead, dam the taxpayers.

  3. Though Shannon thinks a referendum isn't technically required, why would the board not put it to a public vote?
    Why do we let our elected officials push us around? Why can't they be at our service, rather than us being at their service??

  4. Pete, Good coverage of the meeting last night.

    Three key points missed are:

    Over $400,000 for a firing range so the Mt Pleasant officers don't have to drive all the way to the County range in Caledonia that they can use for free. Even the chief admitted there were options.

    Spending untold amount of money to build a new dispatch center 4 miles from the County dispatch center. This is being built according to one committee member because costs presented to Mt Pleasant a number of years ago didn't look good. Yet, it appears that Mt Pleasant continues to talk to a number agencies in the County about joint dispatch that don't have enough room or the needed new equipment in their dispatch centers to combine. Yet no new discussions with the County that does have room and new equipment to handle more dispatch space. Not my words, but the committee and Board member's words.

    The significant number of budget items were listed in the budget spreadsheets last night that no costs were indicated. Yet the items would be clearly needed for the project. Some of the unpriced options look really expensive.

    Hopefully, by Monday some of the expensive missing pieces to this plan can be filled in so the Board really knows what this project will cost.

    Finally, President Milkie pushed during much of the meeting for the Board to vote on this plan without the Board having the time to even read what was given to them for the first time last night. It was like being in Washington DC and watching congress being pushed to vote to spend trillions of dollars in bills that they haven't had time to read. If three Board members had not stopped her last night, the Board would have blindly followed her and voted for what is clearly an incomplete plan and budget package.

  5. This is the temple to Milkie. I wish Mt. Pleasant had learned from Sturtevant, at least they had the good sense to throw her out.

    I do not deny that the current town hall is beyond antiquated. It is horrible and cramped, and I feel sorry for the people that have to work there. But a $15 million dollar expansion isn't necessary. Build something that is nice, but we don't need or want a monument to the people on the building committee.

  6. This is NOT a temple to Milkie, I don't know who puts this woman on some sort of high temple but she is a person who gets voted in and CAN get voted out, simple as that.

    We need a new town hall, let's get it done.

  7. The Town of Norway built a beautiful town hall about 6 years ago. It is huge. Large hall upstairs for meeting, many, many offices, lowere level police, garage, court/additional meeting rooms. Over 20,000 sq ft for 1.8 Million. These costs here are way, way out of line.

  8. Many of us in Mt. Pleasant agree we need a new village hall but why not have re-built it on the current site using some of the brick from the old building. Get some new high energy additives to the building to update the facility but not at such a drastic cost of over 10 million dollars. The residents of Mt. Pleasant enjoy low property taxes why not try to keep this and go back to the table and redesign the new village with less "stuff". We can not afford the dreams of the village staff. Build a new village hall but build it within reason.

  9. The Translator9/30/2009 2:05 PM

    There is a reason the Mt Pleasant is known as Milkieville. She tries to push and bully and im glad that some on the board pushed back. 90% of Mt Pleasant is east of the "new" village hall location. Seems like a long way for someone on Mead or Lake Park to go to village hall.

  10. The headline should have read, "Taxpayers object to Village Hall." That's all this core group of people have been doing for the last 2 to 4 years, objecting to everything the village has tried to do. Regarding the police department being understafed, it has been understaffed for years becasue there was never any money available to hire new cops until recently.

  11. Vote out Milkie! Who wants to run? Unbelieveable!

  12. Anonymous at 8:57pm said "this is the same people who've been objecting to everything the village does. Um no. So in other words you WANT the village to raise our taxes to cover the extra 5-6 million that the village hall they want will cost? They were given $10 million dollars to fund the hall from some very generous donors. They shouldn't exceed that. There is no way they shouldn't be able to build a "complex" for under $10 million. Hello that's just a DUH moment.

  13. I have a radical idea for 8:57..if you want the new village hall built and it sounds like you want it at any cost, you pay for it. You make sure you give the village people your name. address and other pertinent information to make sure your property taxes are increased by whatever amount it will take to build the new facility at its current 10 million dollar plus amount. But for those of us who want the trustees/staff to be fiscal responsible during these times and build within the village hall within their means, this is what I want. Sounds like 8:57 works at the village hall and doesn't give a care about the rest of the taxpayers. And if this is so and you are an elected official. You need to go because you no longer represent the people but you have a "let them eat cake" attitude. That attitude does not fit in this village of mostly blue collar workers.

  14. Anonymous 8:57 replies...I am an unemployed village resident who was at the meeting. These people believe the village comlpex should be limited to the 10 million dollar gift. I may have missed it in the story, but Trustee Albeck, who is supported by the Mt Pleasant Citizens Group, stated that a new village complex is needed now! She also indicated that the Village Board should look at all possibilites to build what is needed WITHOUT rasing the village taxes. I also am concerned about taxes being raised since I am unemployed, but am more concerned about the taxes and fees being levied on my by the state and the federal governement.

  15. When you go to buy a new car, would you sign the dotted line if the salesmann said- the options aren't included, that's extra. And taxes, title and fees are extra. And the spare tire and bumper are extra, but this is a Cadillac, and at 80,000, it's a bargain. Oh, I'll add those extras when I figure out what it costs,SIGN HERE! I think not.

  16. I find it interesting that some folks blogging on this subject define those who are concerned about the cost and process being used as loud mouth radicals. The involvement of the public is what made this country what it was until a few years ago.

    If the folks who doubt the information being presented, pick up a phone and call some people. The information that was presented in the meetings and even cost comparisions in the blogs are all accurate. This project can be done well with the money they already have in hand. No tax dollars should be needed to build and equip the Village Hall.

    Any attempt to raise these concerns or enter into a dialog about the costs is shut down by the Village President. Go to a meeting and see how she "respects" the village residents.

  17. I went to the meeting after getting a heads-up from the Racine Post/Mount Pleasant Citizen. As I recall, nobody from the audience which presumably included the so-called "radical" citizens group said anything about stopping the new complex from going ahead. There were lots of complaints about the size and expense of the project. I think someone said "go ahead and put the pedal to the metal". One idiot in the back put on an angry sideshow and got tongue-lashed by the chair but other than that I thought the public was well within their rights to say what they said.

    There's no way any of us Joe-Blows could know whether the village could make out fine with less, but I'm glad that some people are at least trying to get the village to look at how to cut the cost of this thing. I'm also glad we're finally finding out what we're in for after the village kept it all under wraps for so long. I'm hoping that our "visionary" board has the guts to at least tell us the bottom line and not give us another load of bulls***.

    As far as taxes go, I'll hang tough in Mt. Pleasant as long as I can. If the costs of "future growth" price me out of the market I'll find a place I can afford somewhere else. Happens all the time in the US - look at Seattle when Californians decided they like it, or Denver.

    Like it or not, the US is all about survival of the fittest. Just keep your eyes open and if you're not strong enough to fight, then flee.

  18. I heard the village is now dropping the cost to around 13M. The 10M when given was stated for a new village hall AND other village buildings. Most of the money being spent is for a new cop shop. Mostly for extras like pistol range and indoor garage for autos? Personal cars? The chief wants a station thats world best for show and chest thumping.

  19. What happened to the earlier comments????