The Central Lake Village Council held what turned out to be a contentious meeting on Thursday, June 13 at the Government Center.
The abandoned house at 8096 State Street next to the First Congregational Church parsonage turned out to be a controversial subject, as the Village considered exercising its first right of the refusal to purchase the property for nearly $3,700. The only way the council could purchase the property is for public use, and the reason they gave was, “to remove blight.” While the exterior of the house appears to be in reasonable shape, the interior is apparently filled with rotting trash, according to Village Council President Ken Kruse. “I went through that house and it’s unbelievable, it really is,” he said in the May meeting.
The First Congregational Church sent the Village a letter of committal, expressing interest in purchasing the property. The Village can sell the property in a private sale only after it has removed any structures on that land.
Days after the June meeting, on the Village Council’s Facebook page, Ken Kruse stated, “[After contacting the Village attorney we] now knew that we could purchase the property and remove the blight. At that point I decided to find out what the cost of doing that would be and it was $12,000. After seeking the advice of others who had been through this we decided that the only viable option was to see if someone would be willing to pay that price for the now vacant (improved) lot… I contacted the FCC [First Congregational Church] to see if they would be willing to sign a letter of commitment to purchase the lot for all incurred costs (approx. $12,000) and they stated that they would.”
Several residents expressed disagreement with the purchase. Some argued that it was a conflict of interest. Ken Kruse and Council member Lela Clark are both members of the First Congregational Church. One resident asked Kruse, “You’re a member of that church and you don’t see a conflict of interest?” To which Kruse replied, “Absolutely not.” Another resident asked Kruse and Clark to abstain from voting because they belong to the church, to which Kruse again replied, “I can guarantee you I will not abstain from voting because I do not vote with my personal opinion. If you think I do, start a recall in the village, because I’m tired of the accusations coming out right now.”
In the Facebook note Kruse argued that, with the First Congregational Church’s letter of committal, “…now the Village can proceed with the purchase and the clean up of the blighted property knowing that in the end it will cost the taxpayers $0.0 because the FCC has made that commitment. Anyone else can make an offer on it also and the FCC is well aware of that. In no way has there ever been any discussion at the Village to purchase this property for the First Congregational Church.”
Some complained that this deal violated the separation of church and state. Others complained that the Village exercising its first right of refusal cut them out of the bidding process and they did not understand why they do not allow the house to go to public auction where the church and everyone else could bid on it. The Council reiterated that this was a way to get rid of a blighted property with no cost to the taxpayer.
I asked if the letter of committal from the church was legally binding, to which Kruse replied, “No.” I followed up, “So it’s a risk?” and Kruse, responded, “It’s not a risk in my opinion, Brad. If you’re questioning the integrity of the First Congregational Church of Central Lake I take offense to that.” This drew loud groans from several in the audience and one called out, “That’s an unfair statement!”
After nearly a half-hour dealing with this controversy, the Council voted on the issue with little discussion from council members. The issue passed with only Denise Batterbee voting no.
In other business, the Village approved the Accessory Structure (Shed) Ordinance recommended by the Planning Commission. The ordinance limits structures used for storage to two buildings as long as one is less than 200 square feet. An additional two structures that are not used for storage, such as a gazebo, are allowed.
The Village will be removing more than 3,000 feet of sidewalk and replacing it with seed and mulch, because it cannot yet afford the construction costs associated with concrete.
Lyle Collins provided his campground report, noting that attendance is down from the previous year. He believes that this is due in part to the new 4-day requirement for weekend reservations. The Council agreed to have the Parks Committee discuss this issue further.
Police Chief Scott Barrett introduced Al Burnett, who is retiring as Firearms Trainer. His son, Bob, will take over the position.
The meeting ended after a little over an hour. The next meeting will be held on Thursday, July 11 at 7pm.
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