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W’bago denies probe request

By Staff | Sep 19, 2010

Dana Gates

The Winnebago City Council has denied a request to investigate why $100,000 in city funds was used to buy a parking lot used by Market Place Foods grocery store.

Steve Willett of Minneapolis sent a letter on Aug. 18 to Mayor Randy Nowak calling for a “full and complete” investigation.

On Tuesday, City Administrator Austin Bleess received a letter from Willett asking the council postpone taking action until a state advisory opinion is issued on the matter.

But, Councilman Dana Gates, who was on the council when the parking lot was purchased, read a prepared statement in response to Willett’s letter.

Gates says the new store would not have been built without financial assistance from the city.

“The city of Winnebago purchased the parking lot for public use and should not be construed as simply buying what some wouldconsider “blue sky“, wrote Gates. “Personally, you cannot argue against the fact that a grocery store is essential for this town to sustain the quality of living that Winnebago has.

City Attorney Douglas Johanson says Willett did not name the state commissioner who would be issuing the advisory opinion and report.

A memo from Bleess to council members puts the total value of the real estate and improvements made for the parking lot at more than $158,000.

Gates told other council members he is tired of dealing with the issue and made a motion to dismiss Willett’s request.

“Mr. Willett, as you are not a taxpayer in Winnebago, I find your request for a formal investigation to be irrelevant and a waste of this council member’s time,” Gates read from his statement.

The council voted unanimously to deny the requested investigation.

Johanson instructed Bleess to notify Willett of the council’s decision.

In other business, the council:

• Adopted a preliminary 2011 budget with a proposed tax levy of $539,032, which is an 18.91 percent increase.

Approving the levy means the amount can only decrease and not go higher.

Bleess says the past three years the council has approved a levy of slightly more than 12 percent.

Councilman Chris Ziegler called the preliminary budget a good starting point but the council needs to reduce the levy hike to single digits.

“We can’t keep going at 12 percent a year. We do have reserves, if we have to use them,” he says.

• Approved a resolution allowing the fire department to charge when responding to an accident.

A minor call would result in a $250 charge, while a major call would cost $750. The presiding officer on the scene would decide how much should be charged.