City faces tough choices for infrastructure development

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WAUPUN — The Waupun City Council met for a workshop meeting Tuesday night to discuss a variety of important topics, including some tough choices on budgetary issues.

The meeting was held in the lower level of the Waupun Safety Building, with members of the Common Council, department heads, and consultants from Cedar Corp in attendance.

On the agenda were discussions on the Fire and EMS report presented last month, infrastructure project requirements, budget and debt projections, and ordinance timelines.

The meeting opened with a discussion about the first thoughts from the members about the Fire and EMS report. City Administrator Kathy Schlieve asked each member to share their initial takeaways, areas of concern, and thoughts on the City’s next steps.

One of the biggest concerns was about staff workload, and the need to increase full-time positions personnel. The format of the discussion was similar to the ARPA priorities workshop held last year and lasted about 50 minutes before moving on to the next topic.

In regards to the infrastructure projects, there were some major concerns about costs related to municipal properties—primarily the Waupun City Hall and Auditorium.

Cedar Corp, who are the contractors building the new Senior/Community Center on McKinley Street, were brought in to make estimates on several municipal buildings, including City Hall and the Waupun Ice Arena/Community Center. They identified several issues in the City Hall and Auditorium that brought the total estimate to over $5 million in repairs—including for roof, siding, and HVAC.

Due to the high cost of repairs to the current City Hall, some have considered constructing a new municipal building, which has been suggested to be built on the recently acquired land on Madison Street across from Waupun Utilities.

There are some benefits to this, namely a modernized building with better ADA compliance, planning a better voting setup instead of using the Auditorium, and providing more office space for city staff.

However, there are a number of drawbacks, which Mayor of Waupun Rohn Bishop brought up at the meeting to express his disapproval of the idea.

“If we were to up and leave the building the community would be upset,” Mayor Bishop said at the meeting. “It’s very historic, it was built in 1929—I plan on having a birthday for it when it turns 100 years old. I know it’s not the most conducive, fanciest, nicest building in the world, but Waupun has always been a frugal community that puts a lot of pride into that building and we have a Shaler sculpture in front of it.”

Mayor Bishop also pointed out that building a new municipal building would not reduce costs on the current City Hall and Auditorium as the City would still be responsible for its upkeep, unless a buyer could be identified to maintain the historic property.

“It’s like the Community Center [Ice Arena]. I tried giving it to the Waupun Hockey Association for free and they said they don’t want to own the building because it would bankrupt them,” he said.

“I’m sure we could build a nice fancy new building but I just think we need to save the building we’re in, and that’s why I don’t want to back off on getting the roof done this fall. We gotta get these leaks under control, we gotta get the carpet fixed, the ADA compliance is gonna be costly. I just think if we go to the public and say, ‘hey this is going to be costly,’ I think they’re going to be fine with it.”

He also pointed out that several organizations have begun regularly renting out the auditorium space including a dance organization, and that there was a wedding reception held there only a few weeks ago. The Waupun Community Players also regularly holds live plays and their practices there every year, with three performances of Gilligan’s Island happening this weekend, May 31 and June 1. He said he even had his own wedding there when he got married.

“It’s a really neat place, it’s historic, and when we drove through it was so busy with the wedding going on and all the people on the steps it looked gorgeous,” he said. “It’s such a neat building and I would hate to see us just up and leave it. Especially since the people of Waupun both built it and remodeled it in 1988 and put so much into it. And Jim Laird paid out of his own pocket to prevent the elevator from taking out the old historic ticketbooth. It’s underutilized but leaving it would be a mistake.”

The biggest issue the City faces in regards to City Hall repairs is how the costs keep going up. They had taken estimates on repairs to the building in 2020 which totaled $4 million but had not acted on anything that wasn’t urgent. But with the most recent estimates costs have risen dramatically to over $5 million, and if trends continue at that rate putting repairs off any further would be completely unsustainable.

Mayor Bishop recommended that the City work to get all of the repairs done at once, then pay off any loans over the following years as it would be cheaper to have all work done at the same time.

The Cedar Corp report was not included in the agenda packet, and no assessment breakdowns on specific properties were provided.

According to Mayor Bishop they had identified an issue with the cooling system at the Ice Arena, which puts another $150,000 project on the City. This is only one of the many issues that the City has had to immediately work on, which keeps putting off urgent repairs that need to be made to City Hall before they become unrepairable.

After the discussion on the estimates was concluded, they moved on to where the current budget stood, with a presentation outlining the debt forecast “as it pertains to capital planning,” according to the agenda packet.

The presentation, explained by Finance Director Casey Langenfeld, included a list of projected tax levies and debts over the next eight years, with the levy rate remaining consistent through 2028.

Also included was a list of capital projects planned through 2030, which included purchase of a new ladder truck for the Fire Department, City Hall improvements, Fire station showers, various road construction, stormwater ponds, and several more.

There were two highlighted portions related to the stormwater ponds, one recommended for this year on Gateway Drive—despite there already being two on that street and being located right along the river—and one on Rounsville Street recommended for 2030.

Mayor Bishop came out strongly against the construction of new stormwater ponds, pointing out the little benefit they give the city and asking what penalties the city could expect if we don’t build them.

“I want us to be the city that actually says no to this kind of stuff,” Bishop said. “They want $7 million worth of ponds—which we don’t have the money for or the land to do it. One of the questions I haven’t gotten the answer for yet is what’s the penalty for not building them. If the penalty for not building the stormwater pond is less than the construction cost, let’s not build them.”

He pointed out that the location of stormwater ponds are very limited, and can’t be too close to flood zones around the river.

“I’d rather save City Hall, get the rink fixed, and buy a new fire truck than to build more stormwater ponds that just make more mosquitos. The ponds can help with flooding but it’s just money we don’t have,” he said. “The ponds give no service to the taxpayers of Waupun, it’s just another big government program and at some point some city has to just say ‘stop.’”

Public Works Director Jeff Daane pointed out that ignoring federal EPA and DNR guidelines could result in Waupun being placed further down on grant lists, or receive further scrutiny in other sectors that could “make life miserable” for Waupun in the future.

The discussion moved on to other topics, but the issue will be revisited in the future.

On the ordinances, the City has been looking into updating several ordinances to meet current trends. The City provided timelines for researching potential updates to these ordinances in the next year. This included issues such as bicycles on sidewalks, truancy, public art, business and liquor licenses, personal property, and more.

The Council briefly discussed the bicycle ordinance during the meeting, expressing an interest in raising the maximum age of riding bikes on sidewalks.

One issue that was not discussed but has been a matter in the community recently was regarding the backyard chicken ordinance, which currently limits licenses for backyard chickens to only ten households citywide which is being requested to be increased.

No action was taken during the meeting. Several of the issues will likely be brought up at the next Common Council meeting currently scheduled for June 11.