Council has thorough debate before granting funds
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — The Marshfield Common Council voted to approve a budget resolution moving $60,000 from the city’s contingency budget to install a new HVAC system into the old airport terminal building, which will be repurposed for use by Marshfield Area Pet Shelter (MAPS). The common council approved the lease for MAPS to use the airport space at its May 12 meeting.
MAPS will also have to spend about $40,000 to repurpose the space. The HVAC system would be transferrable to a new facility, which MAPS still intends to build.
In September of 2014, the common council discussed making a donation to MAPS toward a new full-time facility in the amount of $250,000 but did not make a firm commitment. Some council members at the time expressed concern that MAPS was too far from its fundraising goal of $1.2 million for a new facility for the city to get involved with the project. At that time MAPS’ capital campaign had raised about $130,000, and MAPS President Karen Rau said that figure has not increased much since and that they could potentially scale back the designs for a future facility moving forward.
The resolution at Tuesday’s meeting passed 7-3, and because it was a budget resolution and required a supermajority to pass, this was the minimum margin with which the resolution could have passed. The resolution passed only after thorough and at times passionate debate from council members.
At Tuesday’s meeting City Administrator Steve Barg suggested that the $60,000 for the HVAC system could be seen as an advance payment on any money the city may later allocate to the building of a new facility since the HVAC system could be moved to a new building. Barg also apologized at the meeting for the timing of the request for $60,000. The council had previously approved the lease for MAPS to occupy the old airport terminal building on May 12 and were then asked to commit this sum of money to the project at Tuesday’s meeting.
“I want to begin this item by apologizing as there have been questions, concerns raised about the timing of bringing this forward when compared to the lease, which has already been approved by this body. There was no intent to mislead or otherwise redirect the council in a bad place by this,” Barg said. “We’ve talked to MAPS. They fully understand that the cost of this system if we do this, that, that amount would be deducted from the city’s contribution toward the project (for a new, permanent building).”
Alderman Ed Wagner, who voted against allocating the funds for the HVAC system along with council members Alanna Feddick and Rich Reinart, was displeased with the timing of the funding request.
“I think what bothers me about this is that, again, the lease was brought to us last meeting when we agreed to sign the lease, and then after that the $60,000 expense was given to us. I’m very bothered by that. I am also a bit bothered by the fact that the (city) administrator keeps referring to — this is basically a down payment on whatever appropriation you might make (to MAPS). Well, that’s the point. We haven’t made any appropriation. We haven’t decided what appropriation we’re going to make or how we’re going to do it,” Wagner said. “I feel that if the existing (HVAC) system works in there, we should let it stay that way because this is a temporary thing. This is not meant to be a permanent home.”
Alderwoman Alanna Feddick expressed her concerns over the need for a full-time facility for MAPS and the business plan of the volunteer group.
“I’m still concerned about spending this amount of money for an HVAC system that even though is movable is in a building that certainly was scheduled to be torn down. I’m still concerned about not knowing the business plan and the need in the community when other communities offer this availability for housing cats and dogs and other animals,” Feddick said. She later added. “I’m concerned given our strategic planning and what we’re doing and where we should put our money and what’s in most disrepair and what should be fixed and where we should be putting our money, if this is really where we should be putting certainly, I don’t know, $250,000, but $60,000 even.”
The old airport terminal “hasn’t been left in disrepair,” said Mayor Chris Meyer, though the plan is to demolish the structure in 10 years and make the land available, potentially for other airport uses. Meyer said that the current HVAC system in the building, while functional, would be inadequate for the needs of a pet shelter.
“The real challenge here is that Act-90 in the state of Wisconsin, which is often referred to as the puppy mill law, has some very strict requirements for animal shelters, and one of the big components of that is HVAC, how you circulate the air,” Meyer said. He later added, “I am not an HVAC expert. Nobody here is. This was a recommendation made in conjunction with the inspector who does look at pet facilities for the state of Wisconsin on what would be required in order to meet the minimum requirements of Act-90.”
Alderman Tom Buttke asked his fellow council members to support the resolution and grant the $60,000 to MAPS.
“I think this would be the worst thing you could do to a hard-working group like this is pull the rug out from underneath them now and vote against this. They need seven votes, so I would encourage my colleagues to go along with this so that they can move on and continue working hard,” Buttke said.
Alderman Peter Hendler said that at some point the issue of dealing with stray animals would become the city’s problem and voiced his support for passing the resolution.
“You just can’t ignore the situation that we have. I think we should deal with it. I supported this in the past, and I’ll support it again,” Hendler said. “It’ll become our problem if we don’t handle the problem now, and it could be a greater problem later on.”
MAPS President Karen Rau said Aug. 1 is a rough estimate of when MAPS could officially open their doors at the airport facility.
After funding the relocation and operation of the Marshfield Senior Community Center and the HVAC system for MAPS, the city’s contingency budget went from $205,000 to $123,000.
City Finance Director Keith Strey said that having $123,000 remaining in the contingency budget was “not unusually low for this time of year. We’ve had years where we started with $110,000.”
The city will also consider a request for $25,000 — likely later this year — to fund an anti-heroin awareness campaign, and those funds would also, if granted, come from the contingency budget.