Council vacancy open for 1 year

The Common Council last week unanimously agreed to a process for filling a vacant seat in District 4 until a special election can be held in April 2015.

The seat was left open after the April 1 election, when former Ald. Ross Urven won an overwhelming majority of votes despite having moved out of the district and therefore being unable to take the seat.

Write-in candidate Jeff Bach received far fewer votes – 76 to Urven’s 435 – but attended last week’s meeting in the audience and said he planned to file an application to fill the seat.

City attorney Matt Dregne told the council it had several options with regard to the vacancy:

• It could appoint someone to fill the remainder of the term, which expires in two years;

• It could hold a special election in November;

• It could appoint someone and hold a special election next April; or

• It could leave the seat vacant.


Opponents: City didn’t follow policy on KPW

Several city alders and others opposed to the Kettle Park West development have charged that the mayor and her staff have not been following Stoughton’s tax-increment-financing policy on the proposed development.

In fact, they say, city staff had never informed them that such a policy and application even exist. They learned of the documents’ existence from a city resident, who discovered them while navigating the city’s website.

Mayor Donna Olson and key staff members answered those complaints in a hastily prepared Finance Committee meeting last week, saying the TIF policy is merely a guideline or checklist to be used internally by the city.

The council approved the use of $5.1 million in TIF in a developer’s agreement for the 35-acre Wal-Mart-anchored commercial development in January, setting off a firestorm of criticism from within and without. The development is on hold for a variety of reasons, but concerns over the process persist.


New system will address traffic complaints

City committees are discussing a policy that would guide how neighborhood traffic complaints are reviewed and resolved.

The policy is a plan for how neighborhood traffic issues are addressed – from the time there’s a complaint to when any signs for traffic control devices might be installed. The goal is to be efficient with city resources while making residential streets safe and convenient for all users by bringing more neighborhood involvement into the traffic planning process.

Police chief Greg Leck said the plan is still in draft form but should be ready for council review and approval by the middle of the year. Some of its components are things the city already does, he said. The plan brings all those parts together and tries to make sure no steps get missed.

“It’s a better way to look at all the neighborhood residential traffic concerns,” Leck told the Hub earlier this month.


TIF law could help Dunn

A new state law could help the Town of Dunn with new development projects.

Gov. Scott Walker signed Senate Bill 338 earlier this month, which allows large, urbanized towns to create tax increment financing (TIF) districts as a way to encourage development.

TIF is a development tool in which tax increments above a certain base value are placed in a special fund and used to pay for improvements inside the TIF district.  

Cities and villages have been able to create TIF districts for many years for revitalizing blighted areas, attracting lucrative industries and more recently to mix developments in ways that might not be possible otherwise. But critics say it’s too often used for projects that don’t need the help.

The law requires the town to have a population of at least 3,500 people and equalized values of at least $500 million. The Town of Dunn meets both criteria, but town officials said they have no specific plans to use TIF in the near future.


Reduce, reuse or recycle?

Photos by Mark Ignatowski. The City of Stoughton may soon look at regulating single-use plastic bags in order to reduce the burden on the environment. Some companies, like Pick’N Save, are already encouraging shoppers to bring their own bags – customers get a five-cent refund for each reusable bag.

The common question of “paper or plastic?” at the store could be a phrase of the past as Stoughton officials look to curtail the number of single-use plastic bags in the city.

The city is looking into a possible plan to eliminate or reduce the number of these bags used by retailers in Stoughton. No proposal has been developed yet, but the city’s public works committee is reviewing options and gathering public input on the issue.

Public works director Karl Manthe said a resident brought the issue to the committee in November and staff and members have been looking into how the city might approach the subject.


Write-ins don’t win seats but vow to stay active

Photo by Kimberly Wethal. David Erdman, right, helps first-time voter Michael Janisch register before casting a ballot in last week’s election.

None of the four write-in candidates for city government in last week’s election registered a victory, but most felt entering the race was a good use of their time and said they would continue to be involved.

Perhaps the most surprising election outcome was the fact that Ross Urven, whose name was on the ballot for a Common Council seat representing Dist. 4, won against write-in candidate Jeff Bach. That was despite Urven having moved out of the district and was therefore ineligible to be seated on the council. Added to that irony is the fact that he is a relatively new resident to the city, whereas Bach has lived in Stoughton some 15 years.

Bach said it illustrates the power of having your name printed on the ballot versus running as a write-in.


OWI patrol is next weekend

Stoughton’s third round of high-visibility drunken-driving patrols is next weekend.

So when drivers take to the streets next Friday night, April 11, they’ll likely see 17 or more police cars from agencies all over the county patrolling Main Street and other high-traffic areas. Normally, a busy night has two or three officers out on patrol.

The “Capital Area OWI Task Force” has considered expanding to two or more patrols each year since its inception in 2012, but it has instead expanded the number of agencies involved, growing to 14 this year.

This year’s program kicked off last Saturday in DeForest, where it all began. It’s the brainchild of De Forest Lt. Dan Furseth, who started running high-visibility patrols there several years ago to deter drunken driving and found that arrests decreased as they used them more.

The idea of the patrols, he has said in multiple interviews with the Hub, is not to catch drunken drivers so much as prevent them.


Two men try to rob Subway

Photo submitted. Stoughton police are looking for two men who attempted to rob the Subway restaurant March 25.

The Stoughton Subway became victim to a robbery attempt on Tuesday, March 25.

Two men walked into the restaurant, located on the 1300 block of Hamilton Street, at 9:11 p.m. and demanded money from the employee on shift.

Despite the rumor that the robbery was armed, employee Josh Wichern, who was working during the time of the attempted robbery, didn’t see a weapon.

“They didn’t pull a gun on me,” Wichern said. “Honestly, when they walked in with the masks on, I figured they were going to try to rob me.”

The two suspects ordered sandwiches and when it came time for them to pay, the suspects demanded money from the cash register.

“I said, ‘Just the chips?’ and asked if they wanted anything else, and that’s when they asked for the money,” Wichern said. “They tried to grab me, I backed away, and they threatened me. I sat there for about a minute, and nothing happened.”


Council puts hold on KPW approvals

The proposed Kettle Park West development on the city’s northwest side is stalled for the time being, in part because of “setback” issues with the state and in part, the Common Council agreed last week, because an economic impact analysis of the project has not been conducted.

At setback is the distance a building must be from a road right-of-way or property line, and the analysis is a required component of the city’s big box ordinance.

Recognizing those problems, the Common Council unanimously decided last Tuesday not to create a tax-increment financing District and to ask the Plan Commission not to approve a specific development plan for KPW until the city has received an independent economic impact analysis for the project.


Incumbents keep seats

The four write-in candidates for positions in city government were shut out in Tuesday’s election.

Mayor Donna Olson prevailed over write-in challenger Dennis Kittleson in a 2,042 to 1,318 vote. Incumbent alders retained their seats, along with the three Stoughton Area School District board members.

City clerk Maria Hougan said the municipal vote totals are unofficial.

In a four-way race for three spots, SASD board incumbents Liz Menzer (3,279), Brett Schumacher (2,847) and Bev Fergus (3,128) retained their seats, outpolling challenger Allison Sorg (2,689).

Common Council incumbents Tim Swadley (Dist. 1), Paul Lawrence (Dist. 2), Greg Jenson (Dist. 3) and Tom Selsor (Dist. 4) all were returned to the council.