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Town of Port fire sparks investigation PDF Print E-mail
Community
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV   
Wednesday, 25 January 2012 20:15

Authorities search for trio seen on property where blaze damaged building on Jan. 15


Ozaukee County authorities said this week they are searching for three people, possibly juveniles, in connection with a Jan. 15 fire that destroyed part of a replica frontier fort in the Town of Port Washington.

Lt. Rodney Galbraith of the Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Department wouldn’t comment on specifics of the investigation but said what authorities have learned so far leads them to believe that three people were trespassing on the property, which  is east of Highway LL just south of the I-43 overpass, around the time of the fire.

Noting there are no utilities, such as electricity or natural gas, on the property, Galbraith said authorities think the fire was set, although they are not sure whether it was accidentally or intentionally started.

“We believe these people may have information about the fire and may live in the area, know someone in the area or were visiting someone in the area,” Galbraith said, adding that the suspects probably walked to and from the property.

The fire was reported at 9:45 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 15, and was put out by the Port Washington Fire Department.

“We’re asking anyone with information to contact the sheriff’s department,” Galbraith said. “That was the night the Packers played (the New York Giants), which may help people remember something they saw that night.”

Daniel McFeters, the Fox Point resident who has spent 15 years creating and maintaining what he calls a “private living history facility” on the Town of Port Washington property he rents, estimated the fire caused $10,000 to $15,000 in damage and said several valuable antiques were destroyed.

“That’s $10,000 to $15,000 I don’t have,” he said.

McFeters’ fort is designed to depict life in colonial America and during the height of the Western fur trade. He opens the facility for school tours, he said.

“My love of history is why I’ve dedicated 15 years of time and money to this project,” he said.

McFeters said a log cabin that forms the cornerstone of the fort and part of the great hall were destroyed by the fire.

“I also lost a lot of valuable things in the cabin,” he said. “What kills me is the antique desk dating to 1836 that is gone.”

McFeters said this isn’t the first time there has been trouble on the property. Shortly before the fire, the cabin door and lock were damaged, as if someone tried to break in, he said.

Three years ago, there was a break-in, he said. Among the items stolen were an authentic Cheyenne headdress and homemade stand, sketches of American Indians and fur traders, black powder rifles, a .22 caliber rifle and a Davey Crockett lunch box, McFeters said.

“I intend to rebuild, although the process will be long and slow because this is all coming out of my pocket,” he said.

McFeters said he is offering a $500 reward for information that leads to the arrest and successful prosecution of the people responsible for the fire.

The Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Department Detective Bureau can be reached at 284-8468.

 
Council divided over plans for former bank PDF Print E-mail
Community
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM   
Wednesday, 18 January 2012 19:02

Port officials welcome proposed renovation of downtown building but skeptical about giving potential buyer more time


Port Washington businessman Gertjan van den Broek’s plan to buy and renovate the dilapidated former M&I Bank building in downtown Port ran head-first into officials’ frustrations with the current building owner Tuesday night.

The Common Council took no action on van den Broek’s request to stay the raze order, in part because it was not on the agenda.

That means, unless aldermen call a special meeting to act on the matter, a demolition permit should be taken out Friday, with work to be completed by Feb. 17, in accordance with an agreement the city has with Port Harbor Investments, City Administrator Mark Grams said.

Van den  Broek’s plan to delay purchasing the building from Port Harbor Investments until late May seemed to provoke much of the controversy, despite the fact that he pledged to repair the exterior of the structure even before he owns the former bank.

Van den Broek previously said he planned to close the purchase Jan. 30.

“That, to me, is unacceptable,” Mayor Scott Huebner said of the new closing date. “This situation keeps perpetuating. It has to end.”

Ald. Dan Becker said the city needs assurance that changes will occur.

“This city does not need to go through another tourist season with the building in disrepair,” Becker said.

“This body cannot keep moving forward on what-ifs and maybes. We need something concrete.”

Ald. Mike Ehrlich expressed confidence van den Broek can redevelop the former bank, but said he is uncomfortable lifting a raze order while the building is still owned by Port Harbor Investments.

“My biggest concern is to have this other property owner have the building until May. They’re a wild card,” Ehrlich said. “If I’m going to do this (postpone the raze order), I want Gertjan to own the building.”

Van den Broek has agreed to put up a letter of credit to ensure the building facade is repaired by May 31, weather permitting, even if the purchase hasn’t been completed by then, his attorney Bruce McIlnay said.

Last month, after time had run out for Port Harbor Investments to find a buyer for the building and was to raze the structure, the firm accepted a purchase offer from van den Broek’s firm, Renew Port Holdings.

Van den Broek then asked the city to lift the raze order, saying it would be impossible to obtain financing for the purchase and needed renovations with the order in place. Aldermen gave him until Jan. 20 to decide if he would buy the building, staying the order until then.

But they made it clear they did not want the building to remain in its current state during the tourist season. Van den Broek’s plan to repair the exterior of the structure is expected to be reviewed by the Plan Commission Thursday, Jan. 19.

Some aldermen said the city needs to work with van den Broek, saying he is not Port Harbor Investments and should not be tainted by the city’s problems with the firm.

“It’s not Gertjan who caused all this angst,” Ald. Joe Dean said. “I think we need to take a deep breath and work with this guy. We have to be very careful and separate Mr. van den Broek and the unfortunate past history.”

The city is smart enough to be able to write an agreement that will protect it and ensure the building is repaired in case the sale isn’t consummated, Dean added.

“This is a whole new group,” Ald. Burt Babcock said. “If the city tried to work with him, it might possibly happen.”

Although van den Broek was out of town and could not be at Tuesday’s council meeting, McIlnay told aldermen that he is committed to the project.

“He is working diligently to put financing in place,” McIlnay said, especially for the interior renovations, which may be done in stages.

Aldermen also expressed frustration Tuesday with van den Broek’s timeline, which doesn’t call for the concept for the building to be finalized until mid-August, Plan Commission approval until late October and construction next spring.


Van den Broek has said he has conceptual plans for the building, but he needs to refine them and make sure they are the right fit before presenting them to the city.

“Show us what you’ve been working on,” Becker said. “I don’t care if 11 of (the dozen plans van den Broek said he had considered) are junk. Show us what you have in mind.”

Van den Broek’s architect Jim Read told aldermen that they spent the summer working on potential plans.

“We can’t put them in front of you until we know we can finance them. We can’t get financing with a raze order,” Read said, calling the situation a Catch 22.

“Now, we’re talking three months.”

The facade repairs are relatively minor, he said, telling aldermen that eight pieces of terra cotta are missing from the building.

“That’s not much,” Read said, adding that once the building is torn down the city will never get another historic structure in its place.

“It’s a wonderful building,” he said. “It means a lot to the city.”

While some aldermen said they are worried by what they called an11th-hour plan to rescue the building, McIlnay said van den Broek had repeatedly made offers on the bank building previously. It was only in December that his offer to purchase was accepted and he could begin work in earnest.


 
Aldermen OK 1% pay hike for municipal employees PDF Print E-mail
Community
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM   
Wednesday, 11 January 2012 19:52

Salary increase for 2012 applies to nearly all Port workers except police officers


Most City of Port Washington employees will receive a 1% raise this year, the Common Council agreed after a closed session Tuesday night.

“There could be some adjustments in the future,” City Administrator Mark Grams said, noting that aldermen will conduct performance evaluations for department heads and some of the support staff in the next month or so.

The salary increases approved Tuesday apply to all city employees except police officers, Grams said.

The Common Council on Dec. 20 approved a two-year contract with its police officers that calls for them to receive 1% salary increases on Jan. 1 and July 1, 2012, and 1.25% increases on Jan. 1 and July 1, 2013.

However, officers will be required to pay 3% of their retirement in 2012 and 5.9% next year. The city has paid the full cost in the past.

Like other employees, officers will also be required to pay 12% of their health insurance premiums both years.

The contract has been approved by the police union, Grams said.

Port Washington is one of the first communities in the area to reach a contract agreement with police since the state budget-repair law was approved last year, he added.

“Most other communities are in arbitration right now,” Grams said.

Aldermen also approved on Jan. 3 an employee handbook that outlines many of the benefits workers receive.

The changes incorporated in the handbook will help the city reduce its costs, Grams said.

To help cut overtime costs, the handbook no longer sets hours for employees but instead allows for flexible time within the 40-hour work week, he said. For example, if a street department employee works an extra two hours clearing brush, he could be required to work fewer hours the following day, Grams said.

The handbook also eliminates double-time pay on holidays, he said. Instead, employees will receive time-and-a-half for time worked over 40 hours.  

Longevity pay is also eliminated, he said.

There are no changes to the vacation or sick leave provisions currently in effect, Grams said, although the amount of sick leave that will be paid to employees when they retire will be limited to a maximum 45 days.

In the past, he said, employees could accumulate as many as 150 days of sick leave and receive compensation for them when they retired. Now, they will only be able to bank 90 days and be paid for half of those days.

Workers who have already accumulated 150 days will receive compensation for those days, he added.

Employees will now be required to pay 12% of their health insurance premiums and 5.9% of their retirement, Grams said.

 
Port primary needed to pare crowded field in mayor’s race PDF Print E-mail
Community
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM   
Wednesday, 04 January 2012 19:06

With four candidates vying for post, Feb. 21 election will be held to determine final two


Four people are seeking to succeed Port Washington Mayor Scott Huebner in April,  forcing a Feb. 21 primary election to whittle the field down to two.

Filing nomination papers by Tuesday’s deadline were Ald. Jim Vollmar, former city public works director John Sigwart, Plan Commission member Tom Mlada and Ricky Ranz.

Sigwart, who was the last to announce his intention to seek the office, said Tuesday he was motivated to run as others asked him to and by a desire to ensure that many of the programs and initiatives started by Huebner continue.

“I just don’t feel comfortable with any of them (the other candidates) continuing Scott’s programs,” he said.

Sigwart, who is retired, noted he has been involved in the city for years. In addition to a six-year stint as public works director, he has served on the Board of Appeals for 30 years and is active in Port Washington Main Street.

He ran for alderman last spring but lost in a close race against Ald. Dan Becker.

Sigwart, who said he’s always wanted to serve on the Plan Commission, said he has a vision for the city, one that includes working with Saukville to create a long-term strategic plan as the communities grow together.

Perry Duman, who also took out nomination papers for the mayor’s position, did not return them by the 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline.

There will be competition for two of the three aldermanic seats up for election, although neither will require a primary election.

In the 2nd District, aldermen Paul Neumyer and Burt Babcock will face off – a situation created by redistricting. Neumyer is the current 2nd District alderman.

In the 4th District, which Babcock currently represents, Doug Biggs is the lone candidate, ensuring him a spot on the Common Council.

In the 6th District, incumbent Dave Larson will face newcomer Tim Schwister.

The general election will be held April 3.

While the mayor serves a three-year term and is paid $7,500 annually, aldermen serve two-year terms and are paid $3,750 a year.

 
Fourth candidate emerges in mayor’s race PDF Print E-mail
Community
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM   
Wednesday, 28 December 2011 18:54

Port Plan Commission member joins group in bid to succeed long-time incumbent Huebner next spring


With one week to go before nomination papers are due, a fourth candidate for Port Washington mayor has emerged.

T.J. Mlada, a member of the Plan Commission, said Tuesday he will try to succeed Mayor Scott Huebner, who is not seeking re-election.

Mlada said he is excited about the direction the city is heading and wants to help it reach its potential.

“I feel like we’re in a good place,” he said. “I am so energized. I love the city and want to see it have a bright future. I really feel very confident in the direction we’re heading, and there are things we can build on. We have a lot of good people out there who are working to improve this city.”

His two years on the Plan Commission have given him a sense of what it means to have an impact on the community, said Mlada, who noted he was encouraged to throw his hat in the ring by Ald. Dan Becker.

Mlada is the fourth candidate to take out papers for the mayor’s position.

Ald. Jim Vollmar has returned his nomination papers. Perry Duman, who ran unsuccessfully for the State Assembly in 2008 and Senate in 2011, and newcomer Richard A. Ranz have taken out papers for the position.

In the 2nd District, two aldermen — Paul Neumyer and Burt Babcock — are seeking election.

The two men currently serve on the Common Council — Neumyer representing the 2nd District and Babcock the 4th — but because of the city’s redistricting now find themselves in the same district.

Newcomer Douglas Biggs has taken out nomination papers for the 4th District seat.

Ald. Dave Larson is the only person to take out nomination papers for his 6th District seat.

Of the declared aldermanic candidates, only Neumyer has returned his nomination papers to City Hall. The deadline is 5 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 3.

If more than two candidates seek any one position, a primary election will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 21.

 
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