At the first Waunakee Village Board in-person meeting since March of 2020, trustees discussed how to utilize the technology learned during the coronavirus pandemic to fully engage the public. The discussion is taking place among elected officials nationwide, but in Waunakee the technology purchase will wait until Village Hall relocates.
To allow for social distancing, the June 7 meeting took place at the Waunakee Public Library’s community room to allow for distancing with a larger crowd. During remote meetings, members of the public could comment via Zoom. In the current in-person realm, individuals unable to attend can only submit written comments to participate. Meetings continue to be recorded and uploaded to the village’s YouTube channel.
Rod Schwegel and Drew Palasini from AVI Systems presented a user-friendly system proposal that allows remote public participation during in-person meetings. Zoom would be used as the conferencing platform. Speakers would be installed in the Village Hall board room and lobby, so meetings could return there with space for distancing.
The system is flexible, the AVI Systems representatives said, and could be relocated from the current Main Street Village Hall site when the move to the former South Street library takes place. The only extra cost would be for labor and cables. However, with current delays, installation could take up to five or six months.
Schwegel said the system allows for “meeting equity, which means everybody can be seen and be heard. That’s pretty much the future of technology.”
The cost is between $139,100 to $149,800. Village of Waunakee staff are anticipating $1.4 million in funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and told board members the system would qualify for those funds.
Trustee Bill Ranum said he would prefer to have the technology installed in the space where it will remain, rather than be moved and “cobbled” into a new space when Village Hall is relocated. President Chris Zellner agreed.
“If it’s only going to be a few months [until the move], why spend the money?” Zellner asked, adding a discussion of the Village Hall relocation could be on a future meeting agenda.
The village board plans to sell the existing Village Hall to a commercial user and renovate the former library space for use as its administrative offices and board room. That would put the Main Street location on the tax rolls. The timeline for the move is unclear, but Village Administrator Todd Schmidt said if village staff can “line up the dollars to accomplish the move by year-end, we could expect seven to eight months of renovation before moving,” adding it could be the end of next year.
Village Attorney Bryan Kleinmaier said staff was not in a position to discuss the details Monday.
Zellner asked what else ARPA funds could be used for.
The specifics were not on the agenda, Schmidt said. He added that he and Finance Director Renee Schmidt have taken seminars indicating the AVI system would qualify as a necessity resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is, if not entirely, a majority eligible for funding under the ARPA Act of $1.4 million that we expect to receive,” Schmidt said. He and Meinholz plan to discuss other uses and report those at a future meeting, he added.
Meinholz said that they had been on multiple webinars and she had read the final guidance.
“ARPA funds are still continually evolving,” she said, noting that the treasury will continue to update the guidance.
“The overarching principals of the release of the ARPA money is, what need, or deficiency was caused by COVID, and is it a potential expenditure to address that need?” Meinholz said, adding she was confident the technology to address how meetings are now conducted would be covered.
Also at the June 7 meeting, the board:
-approved liquor-license renewals for establishments that sell alcoholic beverages.
-heard an update from Hy-Vee regarding its grocery store project indicating the store may be planned for 2022. Village staff and President Zellner noted the Hy-Vee project has received all approvals and the village has no way of expediting the project. Hy-Vee has indicated that due to COVID-19, changes in shopping trends are forcing projects at all other store locations.
-heard from three Southbridge residents who questioned the board on the recent Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives and asked what the goals were. One called the DEI work “a solution in search of a problem.”
-adopted a resolution recognizing June 19 as Juneteenth, or Emancipation Day, celebrating the end of slavery in the United States.
-authorized the issuance of Municipal Revenue Obligations for Cohen-Esrey Development Group and Octopi Brewing. Both administrative actions were guided by previously adopted Tax Incremental Finance (TIF) agreements. The board voted to revise Octopi’s agreement to allow for construction of the brewhouse and warehouse/production facility simultaneously.