The Rice Lake City Council split over a proposed 2-year hangar lease for Life Link helicopter operations, requiring a tie-breaking "Yes" vote by Mayor Steve Harrington to pass the measure Tuesday, Sept. 10. But the council was unanimous in its support of plans for a swim area at Narrows Park. The council also backed a rescue plan for the troubled Tax Incremental Finance District, which is aimed at spurring development on the city's Southside. The 8-0 vote came on a motion that included only a slight change from the plan recommended by the city's Planning Commission. The tie vote over the Life Link 2-year lease appeared to have less to do about the terms of the lease or the desirability of having the medical evacuation helicopter at the city's airport than it did about the way in which the lease agreement came about. Stu Durkee, who chairs the Airport Committee and has voiced strong support for Life Link's presence in Rice Lake, was among the four "no" votes. Durkee had favored a plan to use $256,000 in state grant monies along with $174,000 from the city to build a new, larger, more isolated hangar for Life Link. That plan was shelved after Harrington and city staff made a phone call to Life Link officials and proposed instead an extension of the lease while the city took a closer look at Life Link's need for a larger facility. Durkee, who said he and airport manager Jerry Stites had worked for more than a year with Life Link in coming up with the plan for the new hangar, said the action by the mayor and city staff behind his back undermined the authority of the Airport Committee. He argued, too, that he's concerned the extension agreement would be just an excuse for the city to put off dealing with the need for improved facilities for Life Link. Other dissenters, like Councilmembers Cory Schnacky and Dan Lawler said they couldn't support the lease extension without hearing firsthand from Life Link officials about their needs. Schnacky referred to emails between Life Link and the city that he said gave conflicted messages about what Life Link needed. The motion by Council President Polly Wolner to proceed with the 2-year lease extension was supported by Councilmembers Dan Swab, Mike Diercks and Airport Committee member Mark O'Brien. The extension calls for Life Link to pay the city $1,774 monthly in rent, along with a 2% increase in the second year. Wolner's motion also includes language that states Life Link's "expectations for increasing operations at Rice Lake have made it prudent to consider options such as the expansion of the present hangar, leasing of additional space from other hangar owners at the airport or the construction of an entirely new hangar." Backers of the motion said the extension gives the city time to examine all the options, and noted that Life Link has indicated its readiness to sign the lease extension.
Swim area A plan to create a swim area at Narrows Park drew enthusiastic support from the council, which gave its approval to a preliminary concept design and directed city staff to apply for a 50/50 state grant to help pay for a facility that would not exceed $200,000 in cost to construct. Councilmember Lawler called it "a great, great plan" and said it will be a wonderful addition to the city, which closed its only beach in a budget-cutting measure in 2000. Councilmember Diercks had suggested the city look into other options to reopening the former beach, noting that he could not support reopening the old site because of the lack of parking, pedestrian safety issues and poor water quality. Community Services Department director Jim Anderson said the new site adjacent to the restroom facilities already at the park would use terracing to deal with the steep bank and would be handicap accessible through the use of ramps. He said the Department of Natural Resources will not allow the construction of a sand beach, but said the present retaining wall can be removed. The DNR is recommending piers on both sides of the swimming area to shield it from boat traffic. There was no discussion about providing lifeguards. Anderson said that since the proposal was announced last week his office has received many calls of support. Because of that, he believes there's a good chance of raising as much as 50% of the city's share of the project through private donations. He also expects the project will do well in competing for grant money. Wolner suggested that the project might draw support from an entity interested in naming rights to the swim area. The motion passed on an 8-0 vote.
TID4 amended A resolution to tighten the boundaries of TID 4 as a way to make the development project solvent, passed the council on an 8-0 vote. The confluence of the Great Recession and changes in the way the state Department of Revenue set property values is being blamed for the $11.2 million dollar loss in value for the development tool first created in 2007. Under TID financing the incremental increases in taxes resulting from property value gains is used to pay for development infrastructure in areas of the city that otherwise could not be developed. Because of the property value losses in TID 4, there's been no incremental increase to pay for development projects, including the dollars spent on improving Camelot Lane. Without action soon to turn around the losses in the district, city taxpayers would be responsible for the debt incurred for Camelot Lane. It would also mean that the plan to extend Kern Avenue to meet up with Lemler Drive could not be done, as well as the infrastructure needed to develop the Burton property. By trimming out properties that have incurred the biggest losses over the past 5 years and focusing on those properties most likely to develop, the amending TID is expected to see an incremental gain in value of $9 million by 2020, which would provide revenue for the Kern/Lemler and Burton properties. The council vote on the measure was stalled for a time Monday, by an amendment from Councilmember Bruce Willers, who said he was opposed to use any TID dollars to fund possible improvements to a area of South Main Street designated in the plan. Other councilmembers argued the project area should remain in the plan as a possible option. After a failed vote on Willers' amended plan, the council voted 8-0 to adopt the amended boundaries as recommended by the Planning Commission. They did, however, eliminate a small portion of a project area for a service road behind businesses from Pizza Hut south. That change came in part after an objection by Gordy's County Market to the proposed 60-foot right of way that would have interfered with plans for the location of a new $500,000 compressed gas facility to be located just east of the gas station/convenience store Gordy's is adding to its property on South Main Street.