Differing minds consider holiday decoration costs, City also votes to extend weekend taxi hours

By Correne Martin

‘Tis the season to purchase holiday decorations at discounted prices. Prairie du Chien Mayor Dave Hemmer showed interest in taking advantage of the lower priced decorations and presented the idea of updating the city’s, to the tune of $30,000, to the Common Council Tuesday night.

The proposal for new decorations would be included in the 2014-2016 Capital Budget, but could be amended prior to any purchases. Council action eventually approved further investigation into short-term and long-term plans regarding replacement of the decorations.

“In my travels around the area, I’ve seen some very nice Christmas lights and decorations, and I feel ours are kind of lacking,” he told the council. Though it was noted that the current decorations and lights are getting “old,” their exact age was not noted.

The council didn’t disagree with Hemmer’s determination; however, several aldermen expressed their concern about spending that kind of money on Christmas decorations when city streets continue to be in need of improvement.

“I’d rather have people mad at me for not buying Christmas lights than have them mad at me for not fixing streets and sidewalks,” Alderman Frank Pintz said.

Hemmer responded by saying, “We are trying to do street projects. This was just an idea I had.”

City Administrator Aaron Kramer added that these kinds of decorations, which are expensive due to their size and light pole attachment, would only be on sale through the end of February or early March. He also stressed that the $30,000 was not set in stone, that the council reserved the right to spend as little or as much as they wished and that they could update the holiday decorations in as few or as many areas of the city they desired.

“The mayor asked [staff] to look into it. We need to have some time to put together a plan, and that’s why we’re presenting this now,” Kramer stated. “If we hear ‘absolutely not’ tonight, we won’t go any further. But if you like the idea and want to dip your feet into the water, but don’t like the $30,000, staff could look into short-term and long-term plans for the decorations, with no amount included in the Capital Budget at this time.”

“I love Christmas and I’m all about Christmas, but I have to admit, I was taken aback a little by the $30,000,” Alderwoman Jamie Wager commented.

Alderman Ron Leys felt a bit differently. “I think it’s important to live in a nice-looking community. $30,000 is not going to get much done for street work anyway,” he said. “I think it is important to lay a foundation for getting started (with updating the city’s Christmas decorations). I would vote to spend the money.”

Alderwoman Karen Solomon was also OK with earmarking a starting point and spending money on newer decorations.

Following the lengthy discussion, the council voted to direct staff to develop a short-term and long-term replacement proposal for the city’s holiday decorations, with an emphasis on Blackhawk Avenue. The vote was 7-4 with Pintz, Wagar, Ken Fleshner and Sharon Boylen opposed.

Also regarding the three-year Capital Budget, the council decided unanimously to expend $10,000 on improvements to the Old Rock School, with a large portion of that total going to window updates.
The proposed three-year Capital Budget equals $2,357,535: General Fund ($1,546,172), Water Department ($340,000), Wastewater Department ($471,363).

Weekend taxi extension
In response to demand and the potential of bringing a Safe Ride program to Crawford County, the council approved a proposal to extend the hours of the Prairie du Chien taxi service until 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. While the extension would be focused on accommodating local tavern patrons, the taxis would give rides to all residents.

Jann Sturmer, president of the Crawford County Tavern League, addressed the council.

“This is the first baby step in getting a Safe Ride Program for the whole county,” she said, noting that the Tavern League will be applying for 501c3 status.

Once that status is achieved, Sturmer said a county Safe Ride program could receive assistance from the state.

“Up to $21 per DUI goes into a state fund. Once our county receives 501c3 status, we will receive money from that pool of funds,” she explained. “Right now, Crawford County is only one of a handful of counties not taking advantage of this. Vouchers are filled out by the taxi service and the tavern for every safe ride that is given, and then we send those into the state to get the stipend.”

Currently, the taxi company contracts with the city and operates on funds from the city (through state assistance), the DOT and passenger fares.

Vineyard Coulee project

The council voted to respectfully decline participating in the Vineyard Coulee project with the Bridgeport Township. The vote was 10-0-1, with Alderman Todd Myers abstaining.

The decision to decline was based on staff recommendation, due to the fact that the source of funds, which is a TID District, is being proposed to be used for flood mitigation projects.

Crawford County Highway Commissioner Dennis Pelock addressed the council on the town’s behalf.

“I believe this would not only benefit Bridgeport but also the city, with the new hospital being built out there and the increased traffic that will happen a result,” Pelock said.

Several aldermen asked about whether the city could participate financially in 2016 or 2017, but Kramer advised any motion now could not commit a future council to the project.

After the vote to decline, Pelock added, “I hate to see the money go back to the DOT but, if this is the city’s decision, I guess that’s where it’s going to go.”

Hoffman Hall
phase 2 proposal

The council also learned that Parks and Recreation Director Mike Ulrich is being contacted by citizens interested in donating to the Hoffman Hall improvement project. Though phase 1 isn’t completely paid off yet, the potential contributors are interested in donating toward certain aspects of phase 2. Phase 2 major components involve adding air conditioning and renovating the basement to include a fitness center and improved locker rooms, among other plans.

“The fact that people are coming to me, wanting to donate, speaks well of the facility,” Ulrich stated.

In order for the city to accept contributions toward the second phase, the council approved the creation of a fund to collect donations for phase 2. Even though the fund is being created, the council has yet to give its OK for any phase 2 construction.

Other business

The council also approved:

•Moving Fourth and Fifth Ward voting to City Hall for all elections prior to July 31, due to renovation happening at the National Guard Armory. After July 31, the city will revert back to its previous polling locations.

•The sale of a parcel of property west of 22nd Street in the Woodridge Acres subdivision (Lot 1 of CSM 1371) to the Redevelopment Authority for development purposes.

•The services of Attorney Ben Wood, of Lancaster, as additional legal counsel in the Block 43 litigation.

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