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Referendum question raised about village hall, YMCA

Aug. 29, 2014

Village of Sussex — The proposed construction of a 45,000-square-foot village hall and an adjoining 75,000-square-foot YMCA building on a newly created civic campus on Main Street are two separate projects, according to village officials, and are not subject to a state law that might require voter approval of the project.

The question of whether voter approval is required of the $14 million proposal cropped up during a series of public information meetings at neighborhood parks last week where various city projects were discussed by residents and village staff and trustees.

During the meeting Wednesday, Aug. 27, at Wyer Park near the site the proposed project, about a half dozen neighbors, including former Village President Mike Knapp, discussed among themselves whether they could require the village board to conduct a referendum on the issue.

Most of the approximately two dozen neighbors who attended the outdoor meeting appeared to be opposed to the project. Village officials anticipated there would be opposition at the meeting since the residents attending the meeting live in neighborhoods immediately adjacent to the project.

The neighbors complained that locating a YMCA on Main Street would destroy a portion of Wyer Park, increase traffic, hurt nearby privately owned fitness centers, and take away from the quaint, small village ambiance of Main Street.

There was also some opposition voiced at the other meetings where attendance ranged from a half dozen to about a dozen citizens.

Village staff members explained that, if implemented, the YMCA/village hall proposal would attract more people to the Main Street business district, provide additional recreation facilities in the village, including a swimming pool, and would increase neighborhood land values and the village's tax base.

Although Central Waukesha County YMCA officials presented the proposal to the village about five months ago, it has yet to be discussed at a public meeting by village trustees. The trustees discussed the plan among themselves during a closed village board meeting in May. The legality of the meeting has been questioned by an attorney for the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.

There is a state law that might require the village to seek voter approval on a single bond or loan of more than $12 million, Village Adminsitrator Jeremy Smith said at a later meeting at the Village Park.

Separate projects?

Smith emphasized that the village hall/YMCA proposal involved two seperate projects. The city would borrow $7 million to construct the new village hall and then might seek another $7 million loan to contribute to the construction of the estimated $14- to $15-million YMCA building.

He pointed out construction of the new village hall was already included in the village's long-range capital projects plans and it could be built wihout consideration of the proposal, which has been offered by the Central Waukesha County YMCA.

The plan offered to the village by the YMCA appears to contradict the village officials' position. The proposal calls for the village to lease land to the Y for $1 and contribute approximately $7 million to the construction of the project. In exchange for the village's contributions, village residents would receive discounts on Y membership and the village could use Y facilities for some village recreational programs.

The YMCA building would be connected to the new village hall/civic center, which would be built with the additional $7 million and connected to the existing Pauline Haass Public Library. The library would be granted additional space in the new village hall, along with village departments and some not-for-profit organizations such as the VFW, chamber of commerce and historical society.

However, the plan is contigent on the YMCA raising the additional $7 million through private donations to complete construction of the Y building.

Three village residents attending a meeting on Thursday, Aug. 28, at Melinda Weaver Park supported the idea of holding either a binding, or advisory, referendum on the project.

"It would certainly help settle the issue," said one of them, who asked not to be identified.

Later, during a meeting at Armory Park, Village President Greg Goetz further emphasized the village's position .

"I just wanted to make sure that you understand that these are two seperate projects" he said.

Goetz was asked if the village would incur the additional cost of issuing two seperate $7 million bonds or save some debt service cost with one $14 million bond issue. Goetz said no decision had been made on the bonding and emphasized the project was in its very preliminary stages and the village trustees had not approved anyting.

Goetz was asked if the village board would consider an advisory referendum on the project. He said it had been discussed but no decision had been made.

"There is a possibility that the Y might not even get built," he said.

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