Ellsworth will buy bank building as library site

The Ellsworth Village Board gave approval Monday night to a plan that will move the library to the vacant former BMO Harris Bank building at 388 W. Main St.

After committee discussion of the matter through several meetings in November, the go-ahead was given for Library Building Committee member Paul Bauer to negotiate purchase of the building, listed for sale at $525,000.

The village board action calls for purchase of the building for an agreed-upon $425,000 with money the library has set aside for facility improvements. The village board agreed that it will then put $500,000 into the library project in the new facility – which it will borrow – when the library has raised $350,000 for renovation of the building.

With that money on hand, that will allow for renovation of the upper level of the facility for the library. The previous plan was for an addition and renovation of the library at its current site, 312 W. Main St. The project price tag was put at $2.8 million.

Grant money will be sought to pay for renovations of the lower level into a community room and senior center in the future.

Village Board Finance Committee Chair Kurt Wandmacher said the village’s portion of the project will impact the average Ellsworth home at $27 for 20 years.

“Half a million dollars for 20 years, the tax increase on $200,000 would be $27. We’re told by several real estate sources that a $200,000 home is the average home value in Ellsworth,” Wandmacher said.

Trustee Neil Gulbranson asked for an initial motion to be amended to include language that the village doesn’t put its share into the project until library committee fundraising has the $350,000 cash on hand, not just commitments or pledges to contribute.

“They’ve said they’re going to raise the money. After they raise the money, then we borrow,” Gulbranson said.

That fundraising can include grants to the project not related to the senior center or community room.

Bauer said the group has a signed offer to purchase on the facility already with the bank, which closed its Ellsworth office in the spring.

Since renovations on the lower level won’t start until grants are applied for and received for the senior space, Gulbranson asked if the library could still move ahead with moving in upstairs.

“If nothing happens downstairs, does that still allow you to move upstairs?”

“Yes,” Bauer replied. “The base level allows us to get into the building, regardless of what we do downstairs.”

He noted that some work would have to be done in the entire building, such as installing a sprinkler system.

In other business: Trustee Becky Beissel said Allina Healthcare has said it no longer has interest in partnering with Ellsworth Ambulance and overseeing the ambulance service. Allina recently contracted to take over ambulance service in River Falls, Prescott, Oak Grove and Clifton.

“Allina backed out at the 11th hour,” Beissel said. “We’ve been in talks with Mayo. It’s a little stressful.”

“Is there anything we can do on our end here?” Village President Gerald DeWolfe asked.

She said she would let him know if there’s a situation where the village would have to become involved.

“It sounds like there’s a lack of people willing to be medical directors now,” Beissel said.

The Election Village Administrator/Clerk/Treasurer Nicole Stewart reported that the Nov. 3 election went very well. The village used grant money to rent Pierce County’s Seyforth Building on the fairgrounds.

She said 1,649 ballots were cast.

“The fairgrounds worked excellent. It allowed us to have everyone spaced out,” she said. “The new machines worked excellent.”

Pierce County worked with county municipalities to use grant money to purchase new voting machines.

“If we would have seen that volume here (at the village hall), it would have been not a good picture,” she said. “It was good use of the grant money for rental up there.”

She said village staff issued over 800 absentee ballots and processed them after in-person voting was done.

Stewart reported that the village was also randomly selected by the state Elections Commission for a random audit after the election, where ballots had to be checked against machine totals. Stewart said it took nearly 12 hours, but no issues were found.

“Our numbers matched the equipment,” she said.

Stewart also said that property tax bills are forthcoming.

“You’ll be seeing them soon,” she said.

The village also filed for grant money to upgrade computers and technical equipment through a Routes to Recovery state grant which will make holding virtual meetings easier. That application was approved.

Stewart also said she is going to check around with other local banks, as the bank the village currently uses “has increased our fees dramatically,” she said.

Board members said she is free to look into other options.

December 10, 2020