By Lisa Dawsey Smith
Whitewater Banner Staff
The City of Whitewater Common Council met virtually on June 16, with a number of citizens also participating.
City Manager Cameron Clapper announced that another free COVID-19 testing event will take place in Elkhorn on June 22 and 23. He also introduced Cathy Anderson, the new Economic Development Director for the Community Development Authority. Ms. Anderson comes to the position from Granite Falls, MN, where she served for over three years as Executive Director for the Granite Falls Economic Development Authority. Previous to that she served as Executive Assistant for the Walworth County Economic Development Alliance for over six years. The Discover Whitewater Series half marathon and 5K are still scheduled for September 20; however, there will be a cap of 150 runners on each race. The Fit Kid Shuffle, Half Marathon Relay, Pre-race Dinner, Whitewater Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast, and other events will not be held this year. The race route is being changed somewhat, partially due to road construction.
The sale of $5,195,000 General Obligation Corporate Purpose Bonds was authorized. Ehlers Inc. representative Greg Johnson reported that it had been a competitive sale, with six bidders. The low bid, which was accepted, was offered by Bankers Bank of Madison in cooperation with First Citizens State Bank. The true annual interest cost for the 20 year bonds will be 1.6699%, a very attractive rate that will result in $549,000 in savings in principal and interest compared with the pre-sale projections. The proceeds will pay for capital projects, particularly road and utilities reconstruction, and will also help to pay off two previous borrowings at lower interest rates.
The City Manager’s March 18, 2020 Declaration of Emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic was ratified, with an ending date of December 31, 2020 unless canceled or extended before that date. This declaration is intended to help qualify the city for any state and federal emergency funding that may be available.
The Wastewater Treatment Compliance Maintenance Annual Report to the state was adopted. Congratulations was expressed to Superintendent Tim Reel and his staff for another excellent report, with all grades of A except for one B.
The first reading of an ordinance repealing the R-2A Residential Increased Occupancy Overlay District was approved. This ordinance, enacted in 2016, has allowed property owners in a specific district generally to the south of the university to apply for increased occupancy designed to accommodate student renters. It was indicated that due to the declines in university enrollment in recent years there is no longer a need for increases in student housing. There was no public comment on the matter. City Attorney Wallace McDonell provided an opinion regarding the legal nonconforming use that would continue under specified conditions for properties that already received the R-2A zoning.
An agreement for professional services related to the lakes dredging project with Ayres Associates was approved. Council member Jim Allen requested that in view of current economic conditions, the State Department of Natural Resources be contacted to determine whether they would be willing to extend their approval of our project for one year.
This being the fifth virtual meeting for the Council, President Lynn Binnie requested a discussion regarding rationale for and effective use of virtual City meetings. A wide variety of opinions was expressed, with Jim Allen being the strongest proponent of resuming in person meetings for the next meeting on July 21. Other members expressed concerns regarding the potential for an increase in COVID-19 infections after the 4th of July holiday, and questioned whether it was too early to return to normal practice. All seemed to agree that when in-person meetings resume, everyone present in the room will be required to wear a mask, and that the capacity of the chambers would have to be limited. City Attorney McDonell indicated that the Council typically allows public comment on many matters that do not require this under state law. Mr. Binnie indicated that virtual meetings are actually more convenient for many members of the public, for e.g., seniors who do not drive at night or do not wish to risk exposure to the virus, parents with young children, people who may be interested in only one agenda item that is late in the meeting. Though not everyone is able to view/participate in the meetings online, virtually everyone has a telephone. A motion was made by Mr. Allen to begin “hybrid” meetings (a combination of in-person and virtual) effective July 21. The motion did not pass, with three votes in favor, three votes opposed, and Brienne Brown abstaining. The question was then asked as to how many members would currently expect to attend a meeting in person. Only Jim Allen answered in the affirmative, with other members referring to health concerns of their own and their families. Two other members indicated that they live with family members who are health care professionals who are at risk for being exposed, and they felt that it would be inappropriate for them to run the risk of exposing others in a meeting.
City Manager Clapper and Parks & Recreation Director Eric Boettcher reported on reopening plans for the Aquatic and Fitness Center. Their current plan was to open the fitness center and the lap pool effective July 6. There are a number of CDC requirements that must be followed, including frequent sanitation of surfaces. The locker rooms will not be open. Concerns regarding opening the leisure pool included safety of lifeguards who are frequently called upon to assist young children exiting from the slide, and a question as to how revenues would compare with expenses. It was reported that the summer is typically not a strong utilization period for the leisure area unless temperatures are unusually cool or hot. A motion to recommend to the Parks & Recreation Commission to open the fitness center and the lap pool effective July 1 was passed unanimously.
In view of recent national events and local protests, Lynn Binnie introduced a Resolution in Support of Racial Justice. The Banner will publish a separate article on this subject by June 20.
President Binnie jested that after more than three and a half hours it must be time to end the meeting, as his second cordless telephone was running out of charge. The meeting adjourned slightly after 10 p.m.