Correction: Photo ID will not be required to receive a ballot at the RKLD registration table at the annual meeting scheduled for Aug. 15. Electors are required to fill out a Voter Certificate. The Milton Courier regrets the error.
A lawn chair, pen and portable writing surface are on the short list of things to bring to this year’s Rock Koshkonong Lake District (RKLD) Annual Meeting, Chairman Alan Sweeney said during the July 16 monthly meeting held outdoors at Edgerton’s Race Track Park.
The outdoor meeting concept was put in place to help mitigate exposures to COVID-19, he said, further recommending that annual meeting attendees wear masks, use hand sanitizer and follow social distancing guidelines.
The annual meeting will be held Aug. 15 at Race Track Park, 900 Stoughton Road. A public hearing to discuss this year’s annual budget will be held before the meeting at 10 a.m. The annual meeting will begin immediately afterwards, Sweeney said.
A vote on the budget will take place during the annual meeting.
Registration tables will open at 8:30 a.m., Sweeney said.
Registration process, voter eligibility
This year, Sweeney said, a Lake District Voter Certificate, declaring the individual filling out the certificate is a landowner or elector within the district, will be used to identify eligible district voters.
Those receiving the RKLD newsletter will receive by mail a copy of the certificate in advance of the annual meeting. The completed certificate and a photo ID will be required for presentation at the annual meeting registration table in order to receive a ballot.
Eligible voters without certificates may obtain one at the registration table, Sweeney said.
The board approved changes to the registration verification process, typically done by matching electors with addresses found on a district-wide list. Instead, along with the completed voter certificate, electors will be asked to show a photo ID, verifying the individual named on the certificate is the person receiving the ballot. Certificates will be kept on file. Violating voter registration requirements, as stated on he certificate, is a federal offense, punishable by up to 18 months in prison, Sweeney said.
Eligible voters include those who own land within the boundaries of the lake district, reside within the boundaries of the lake district, or are the official representative given authorization to vote on behalf of an organization owning “real property” in the district.
Lake district voters must be at least 18 and US citizens “who are not otherwise disqualified to vote in Wisconsin elections,” according to the certificate.
Following RKLD’s June 18 meeting, Sweeney said he had posed questions to the district’s legal counsel, Thompson Legal, LLC, and learned the following: when a residential property within the district is leased to a tenant, both the landowner and the tenant are eligible to vote. Landowners owning more than one property within the district are eligible to receive one ballot. Residential property owners who also own a business within the district and are the official representative given authorization to vote on behalf of that business are eligible to receive two ballots.
The concept is that one vote is allowed for each different type of interest, Sweeney said.
In a follow-up interview Sweeney said, hoping to gain further clarity, he had spoken with UW-Extension office Stevens Point, Director and Lake Specialist Eric Olson, who offered a differing opinion from that offered by the district’s counsel.
Olson understood the statute to mean one person, one vote, no matter how many residences or businesses they owned, Sweeney said. He has asked Thompson Legal, LLC, to look again at the statute and offer further clarifications, he said, noting that he hoped to have a final opinion from counsel soon.
New voting process
RKLD commissioners voted in favor of moving the voting process to the top of the annual meeting agenda. New provisions within state statutes indicate that once the voting process begins, no new ballots will be distributed. Voters must be present to vote; absentee ballots are not allowed. The voting process will open immediately after candidates running for RKLD board seats make their presentations. Voting will remain open for 15 minutes. Votes will be tallied after the voting period closes.
Electors will be asked to mark their ballots and place them into ballot boxes.
Election results will be announced at the end of the annual meeting before adjournment, Sweeney said.
As of July 16, Sweeney said, two challengers, Bill Burlingame, Koshkonong, and Michael Hart, Edgerton, have declared their candidacies, running for two open seats held by incumbents Jim Bowers and Steve Proud. Other candidates, including the incumbents, had not come forward. Burlingame and Hart’s names will be included on the ballot. Given lead times required by printers, a limited time remained for other names to be printed on the ballot, Sweeney said. Spaces for write-in candidates will be provided, he said.
Declarations of candidacy, including those from incumbents, can be made at any time before the voting process begins, including from the meeting floor.
Also new, electors will be divided into seating sections, allowing election workers to count votes for other agenda items requiring approval from the electors, such as resolutions. In years past, such votes were decided by a show of hands.
Several items requiring action will come before the electorate, including a resolution authorizing a borrowing of $1.5 million for the gate replacement project at the Indianford Dam.
A second resolution coming before voters authorizes refunding special charges assessed in 2019 against 29 parcels of land deemed exempt “pursuant to a resolution approved by the electors at the 2019 annual meeting.” The parcels are considered “common areas or ‘greenways’” owned by the Rock River Leisure Estates Homeowners Association, Inc.
During the July 16 meeting, Sweeney said that the dam project had become a mandate made by the DNR through a written “Revised Work Directive,” issued to RKLD on Feb. 7.
In a follow-up interview, Sweeney pointed to a directive issued to RKLD by the department in 2014. It outlined five directives, defined as “deficiencies that must be corrected by the dates given,” the last of which, asking for plans and installation of a powerhouse intake trash rack clearing system, had a correction date of Dec. 31 2016.
None of the directives were met, Sweeney said. The new directive issued this year, expanded upon the directive not met in 2016, requiring the district to improve water level control by submitting plans for the installation of a powerhouse intake trash rack clearing system, modification of trash racks to include wider spacing, modification or removal of wicket gates and turbine pits, and the addition of a gated spillway.
The date by which these new directives must be met is Dec. 31, 2022, Sweeney said.
The full dam project, as earlier designed by Madison-based engineering firm Mead and Hunt to replace two wicket gate carousels in the powerhouse with six slide gates, among other improvements, meets the new water control directives, Sweeney said.
The project, according to numbers presented by RKLD Commissioner and Treasurer Mark Meyer during the July 16 meeting, comes at a cost of $2.275 million. The district has allocated $700,000 from within the Dam Fund for the project.
Within an RKLD dam project budget update, Meyer noted an expenditure of $75,000 on the project. In a follow-up interview, Meyer said the number was preliminary, and not an exact figure, adding that $50,000 was allocated to the project within last year's budget. Since then, unallocated funds from within last year's general fund of about $30,000, were transferred to the project.
In past years, he said, the board used an estimated number of 4,000 parcels when calculating revenues derived from the special fee. The actual number of taxable parcels is closer to 4,400, he said, which brought more revenues than earlier calculated.
Thus far, he said, nearly $114,000 has been approved by the board to support costs associated with the dam project, including a $71,900 expenditure to Mead and Hunt for engineering services.
In June, RKLD received a letter from the DNR, noting that the district’s application for funding through the 2019-21 Municipal Dam Grant Program had been placed on the “priority funding list.” To qualify for the grant, the district must complete a dam improvement project with a total cost meeting or exceeding $1.2 million. The reimbursable grant program offers a maximum grant of $400,000, payable upon project completion.
Meyer suggested returning the potential $400,000 award to the Dam Fund to help rebuild it for future expenditures.
To remain eligible for the grant, Sweeney said during the June monthly meeting, the district must present a bid for the full project cost to the DNR by Dec. 10.
To pay for the full project, Meyer said, a special charge of $45 to $50 per parcel would require approval from the voters during the annual meeting. If approved, the money would be used to make annual payments of $180,000 to $200,000, for a payment period of 8-10 years, against an anticipated $1.5 million borrowing needed to fund the full dam project, he said.
2021 budget mill rate funding proposed
Operating expenses for the 2021 budget, as proposed by Meyer, are estimated at $132,000. Comparing the budget to previous years, Meyer said in 2019, budget projections were set at $160,000 and actual expenditures were $110,298. In 2020, budget projections were $160,000.
Looking at the differences between the 2019 budget projections and actual monies spent, Meyer said some monies received in 2019 were unspent and transferred in 2020 to cover costs, some of which were accrued in 2019, but billed and paid in 2020.
A "transition between boards" in 2019 and 2020, Meyer said, was represented in the numbers.
"I did the best I could," he said.
Meyer said costs associated with the dam project were not included in the 2021 operating budget projections. Monies collected through the proposed special fee would be applied toward the dam project and not the operating budget.
Meyer proposed collecting funds for operating expenses separately using a mill rate structure.
Meyer said he calculated the budget using a mill rate of .0002, which he applied to the 2020 total assessed valuation of property within the district of $660 million ($660 million x .0002 = $132,000). He next divided the proposed budgeted amount of $132,000 by 4,400 taxable parcels within the district, arriving at a proposed assessment of $30 per parcel.
Combining the two charges -- the mill rate adjustment for the operating budget of $30 per parcel, and the special fee of $45 to pay for the dam project borrowing -- landowners within the district would pay a total of $75 per parcel.
While a resolution to borrow funds for the dam project will come before voters at the annual meeting, both Meyer and Sweeney noted that the dam project, as outlined in the 2020 directive, is a mandate from DNR and must be paid for.
Board meeting to elect officers
A board meeting to elect officers will commence after the annual meeting.
The RKLD website will be used as a primary mode of communication as the annual meeting nears, Sweeney said.
In other business, the board:
• Approved the purchase of solar lights for channels underneath the Edgerton Railroad Bridge. The new system will mark the two centermost channels such that each channel accommodates one way traffic, designating one channel for craft traveling upriver and another for craft traveling downriver. Lights will be purchased from McDermott Solar Bridge Lights at an estimated cost of $6,000 and installed by Wisconsin & Southern Railroad. The company leases the bridge from the Wisconsin River Rail Transit Commission.
• Assigned Commissioner Jim Jelinek the task of exploring costs of replacement lighted buoys to replace one that is missing near the Highway 59 bridge and possibly others that are in poor condition.
• Received a written landings and lake access update from Jelinek, who was not in attendance. In his letter, Jelinek said he, Sweeney and Commissioner Jim Bowers met on June 23 with representatives from the Dane County Parks Department at the Albion town hall to discuss the proposed boat-landing project on Bingham Road and other landing sites along the lake. Dane County Parks Department representatives said, Jelinek wrote, they would be interested in buying some or all of the land needed at the Bingham Road site, but would not be interested in maintaining it. They suggested the town of Albion as a candidate to maintain the property. Addressing lake access points, Jelinek wrote that he was in the process of inventorying landings on the lake and would make a presentation to the board during a future meeting.