The Crawford County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted 4-0 to approve geotechnical surveys and testing at two sites for possible construction of towers for the county’s new land mobile radio (LMR) system.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Kyle Schultz abstained from the vote. He is the owner of a site near Charter Oak to be tested.
A site in the Vail area will also be tested.
The following is an edited and condensed account of the discussion, which resumed in the public input session later in the meeting.
In the discussion prior to the vote, Supervisor Cecil Blum said he did not have a problem with approving the testing because it is an integral part of moving the project forward.
“But I guess I’m hoping that we have the option, if we allow the boring to go forward, that we still have a discussion on the leases; who holds the leases and the verbiage on the leases and the technical part of what’s going on,” Blum said.
Schultz said the board has every right to be in the driver seat on it.
Supervisor Dave Muhlbauer said the testing would help the project move forward.
Blum said he had no problem with the testing, but he had concerns that could be discussed later.
“I think, in an effort to keep the project going forward, I think it’s a necessary step, but I do want to make sure that we reserve the right to have a full discussion about the leases on any site,” he said.
Supervisor Jeri Vogt asked about the cost of the testing.
Schultz said he thought it would be up to $2,000 per site.
Muhlbauer pointed out that the testing would have to take place at any site being considered.
Denison resident Beth Vogt, a member of the audience, asked where the Vail site is located.
Blum said, “I think the law gives us some latitude on issues of real estate that we don’t necessarily have to make full disclosure on those right away.”
The board proceeded to vote and discussion resumed during the public input session.
The Bulletin and Review asked for details of the arrangement for the site in Charter Oak.
At the supervisors meeting on September 24, Schultz said he would lease his land to the Charter Oak Fire Association, but specific details were not offered about an arrangement with the county.
Blum said the site testing and the leasing of the site are two separate issues.
“My position is that the form of lease and who the leaseholder is going to be, I think, is still up to discussion,” Blum said.
Schultz said, “A lease will be drawn up between the Charter Oak Fire Association and the Crawford County Board of Supervisors.”
Jeri Vogt asked if a lease had been finalized.
“It all stems off the boring coming back,” Schultz said. “If the boring comes back negative, there’s no need to proceed with that spot.”
“I applaud you for offering the land up for this project, but I guess that I’ve given this considerable thought and I think, for this site and future sites, if we can make an agreement, I think the leaseholder should be Crawford County,” Blum said.
Blum said he understands that the property owner has the discretion to either make or break a deal.
“Is the county prepared to do what it takes to maintain these sites?” asked Denison firefighter/City Council member John Granzen, Sr., who was a member of the audience, “Because right now, if you lease it, the fire association maintains it or the fire department maintains it.”
Charter Oak is a small fire department and its income is from pancake dinners, breakfasts and other activities, Granzen said.
What’s the problem with “looking out for your volunteer association and actually let them maybe make a few bucks so they’re not having to cook pancakes in the morning?” Granzen asked.
Blum said one problem is that the supervisors can’t do the same for other fire departments.
“…and quite frankly, when this was first conceived, I think our purpose was to build out a new LMR,” Blum said. “I’m not sure that the purpose of this was to be a device that would raise money for individual fire departments.”
Blum left the meeting at this point for a personal appointment.
Jeri Vogt asked if the lease proposal is $1 for 99 years.
Schultz said that was his proposal.
“He can lease it to whoever he wants to,” Muhlbauer said.
The LMR committee is trying to get the system in place and could end up renting a tower from a private individual or a business, he said.
Audience member Peggy Staley, a member of the Charter Oak City Council, asked if the county doesn’t want to be in charge of (radio) towers.
“Do you want to build them and then turn them over to someone else so you don’t have to worry about it?” she asked.
“I don’t think that’s the general consensus,” Jeri Vogt said.
“I don’t know this board has ever said they don’t want to,” Schultz said. “We’re not going to lease them out to some tower management company.”
Staley said she had concerns about a different radio tower.
“You know there are questions about the Ridge Road tower and how that came to be, and what I kind of see is you might be getting ready to do the same thing in Charter Oak,” Staley said.
Staley’s concerns, shared with the Bulletin and Review, are that a $100,000 state grant and other funds used to build a new radio tower on Ridge Road should not have gone toward building a tower for the Crawford County Firefighters Association, which is a private entity and may not have been eligible for the funds.
Staley said the supervisors should wait until the state weighs in on the Ridge Road tower.
Muhlbauer asked Staley how a site leased to the Charter Oak Fire Association would be different from the Schleswig tower that is owned and managed by Verizon.
“The difference in Charter Oak is the county is going to buy the tower,” Staley said.
“It’s my opinion that you gave a tower away on Ridge Road.”
She said she could be wrong but asked if the supervisors are going to do the same thing in Charter Oak.
“Gave something away we never owned,” Supervisor Eric Skoog said.
Beth Vogt said public funds were used “through a gentlemen’s handshake, apparently.
“And all of a sudden we’re jumping right back into the same thing,” she said. “Well, we’ll negotiate it later.”
Staley told Schultz, “I don’t know that you can speak for the (Charter Oak) fire association, at this point.”
“I’m not speaking for the fire association,” Schultz said.
“Well, if you’re going to enter into a land agreement with them,” Staley said. “Out there (Ridge Road) the county fire association bought the shelter and they’re getting profit off the equipment in the shelter. They’re signing lease deals on what’s in the shelter. So that means in Charter Oak, if we’re following this model in Charter Oak, you’re going to have to buy a shelter over there. You’re committing the fire association to expenditures.”
She said there are legal hurdles to go through.
“I don’t know why you don’t ask the state to audit the funding on that (Ridge Road) tower,” she said. “I’m not making a judgement. I don’t think any of us are qualified to make that judgement.”
The Denison Bulletin and Review has been asking the relevant parties about the Ridge Road tower funding. See the Tuesday Denison Bulletin for a story outlining the information that has been gathered.