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W’bago City Council discusses SuperValu’s fate

Council also addresses a clerical error regarding Fireman Relief funds

By Fiona Edberg - Staff Writer | Sep 12, 2021

The aging SuperValu building has long been a thorn in Winnebago’s side. At the Winnebago City Council meeting held on Wednesday, Sept. 8, the council took steps toward the demolition of the property, which has long been considered both a safety hazard and somewhat of an eyesore.

The council has received two bids for the demolition of the property previously, but voted to table the bids in favor of seeing if a better offer could be elicited by the meeting scheduled for Sept. 8.

“We only got one bid back, from Erosion Control Plus,” shared city administrator Jacob Skluzacek. The bid, which the council opened during the meeting, was for the amount of $99,900. It was good for 45 days.

“This does not include any restoration of exterior walls after the demolition,” Skluzacek clarified. “We’re trying to figure out if it’s a shared wall. American Engineering is coming down to do some assessments.”

The city is seeking a loan which would help to fund the demolition of the SuperValu building. Half of the loan could ultimately become a grant.

“We have not been approved for the loan yet, but as long as we own it (the property) and sign the purchase order, they will go through with the application process,” Skluzacek explained.

Some council members expressed concern regarding the uncertainty of receiving funding for the demolition, as well as the potential of a shared wall on the property.

“We don’t have to accept it at this meeting,” noted council member Tim Hynes.

Council member Paul Eisenmenger added, “If we’re going to be spending $100,000 to tear the building down, and another $50,000 for the wall, we’d better get this figured out first.”

After additional debate regarding the liability the city may accept for a shared wall, Eisenmenger concluded, “The building’s been falling in for six years. We’ll have to make a decision in the next 45 days to get it done.”

Mayor Scott Robertson was in favor of decisiveness.

“This is the second time we’ve done this,” he said. “Pretty soon, we’re not going to get a bid.”

Scott added, “We have been beating this horse for a long time. We won’t know until it comes down.”

The council eventually unanimously passed a motion to accept Erosion Control’s bid of $99,900 for the demolition of the SuperValu property.

The council hopes to commence the demolition by summer of 2022.

The council also addressed an odd, but sizeable clerical error which has been affecting payments received by the Winnebago Fireman Relief program.

The issue concerned payments of quarterly franchise fees received from CenterPoint Energy, which date back to when the fees were created in 2012.

“The first two payments, along with the last one, were all deposited to the City of Winnebago. All other payments have been going to the Winnebago Fireman Relief,” Skluzacek shared.

He continued, “We believe this is due to an error made back around 2012, and went on undiscovered until we received the payment for the last quarter.”

Skluzacek concluded, “The payments have been corrected and should be coming to the city from now on. In speaking with our auditors, the City Council has broad discretion on how they would like to proceed.”

Jesse Haugh, Chief of the Winnebago Fire Department, was present to provide further clarity regarding the situation.

“I was a little shell-shocked,” Haugh admitted. “The dollar figure was $141,000.”

Despite the enormity of the sum, Haugh assured the council the money had only been spent toward equipment purchases for the fire department.

“We started getting those checks quarterly, and we banked them,” Haugh explained. “None goes into our retirement fund. It all goes into equipment purchases.”

The council agreed that the situation seemed to be purely accidental, rather than nefarious.

“I don’t see anything underhanded going on,” Scott said.

Anderson agreed. She added, “If you had not deposited that money, knowing it was a grant of some sorts, the city would have had to give you back the money anyway.”

Nonetheless, Anderson acknowledged budgeting will have to be adjusted now that the mistake has been discovered.

“Now that it’s been straightened out, we have to deal with it going forward,” Anderson said. “Now the budget will have to show that accordingly.”

The council agreed they will continue to direct the checks toward the Winnebago Fireman Relief program, even if they are now made out to the city.

“We will consider it a voluntary contribution to Fireman Relief,” Skluzacek said.

Nonetheless, Haugh has concerns about the future of the Winnebago Fire Department’s funding.

“I think this goes to show how underfunded we are,” Haugh noted. “With that money we are able to buy equipment we need. It’s not extravagant, it’s stuff we need to function.”

He added, “I don’t know what we’d do if that money doesn’t come to us somehow. It needs to change.”

Other business discussed by the council included: 

• Applying for a USDA Community Facilities Grant for the purchase of a police vehicle for the Winnebago Police Department. The total cost of the vehicle is $66,230 without grant funds. However, a sizeable portion of the funds for the project could be redeemed if the city is awarded the grant.

• A first reading of an ordinance regarding solar energy systems and related zoning standards. The ordinance is necessary due to a current lack of guidelines provided by the city regarding the operation of solar panels.

• Two closed session meetings. One involved the discussion of a contract with B&B Sanitation of Winnebago. The other involved pending litigation regarding a TMI Coatings invoice. No action was taking on either.