The complete version of this story can be found in the May 27, 2021 print edition of The Brillion News.
By David Nordby
The Brillion News
BRILLION – How exactly did the downtown City Center building come to be in Brillion?
That was the question that new mayor Mike Smith and members of city council were reexamining, and why Smith called the special city council meeting for last Tuesday night.
The workplace for city officials and host to city meetings is a magnificent building to the independent eye, but it has been a point of contention for some Brillion citizens for its $10,000 per month lease payment the city makes. The city’s financial restraints are a routine topic of conversation and the building is now a budget item.
The key point from last week’s meeting is that since the city is already in the building, it makes sense for it to stay in the building for the foreseeable future.
From 2002 to 2009, multiple studies were conducted in the city to examine the downtown and create a solution for city officials and police, fire and ambulance groups.
The previous building city workers were in on Calumet Street was shared with the emergency service groups. That created tight quarters for all departments. At times, it also put city officials in a position where they could not properly follow state statutes on confidentiality.
By 2016, talks of exiting city hall intensified, and eventually, the city entered agreement with Integrated Public Resources (IPR), who leases City Center.
City officials at the time of City Center’s development touted low interest rates, a right to purchase the building at any time from IPR, and the building’s ability to increase the city’s tax base, which is desperately needed.
Recently, frustration from some citizens was renewed when the city discussed bringing in new internet services and adding needed technological upgrades to City Center. Other rumors about the purchase of City Center floated on social media, though city officials voted in December not to purchase the building at that time.
“Of course, talking about City Center, or spending additional money in City Center, resulted in a lot of people being frustrated and I thought this is a great opportunity to take on the question of how in the world we got the City Center,” Mayor Mike Smith told the newspaper earlier this week.
Last Tuesday night’s meeting was intended to mitigate frustration and build better understanding for Smith and council members who did not know the full development history, but there was a low public turnout to the meeting with around 20 people attending in-person and virtually. That number was much lower than last summer’s highly attended meeting when the city discussed disbanding its police department.
“I was disappointed with the turnout. I really hoped there would be more people that showed up. There were more people than a normal meeting which was positive, but I was really hoping for … more of a turnout like when people came out in support of the police department last summer,” Smith said.
Smith said that he was not looking for ‘a fight’ with citizens, but to increase transparency, which has been an underlying theme to the city’s recent meetings.
Smith said had he been mayor at the time, he would have held more public informational meetings or “town halls” prior to the construction of City Center.
The idea of holding quarterly “town hall” meetings with the public to discuss any concern citizens have is something that Smith has discussed with administrator Peter Wills.
“I completely agree with what a member of the public stated during that meeting last week, which is that a lot of the reason the turnout wasn’t as good, is that at this point a lot of the citizens feel as though it doesn’t matter what they say, that council is going to do what they want anyways,” Smith said. “I think that the City Center project … that’s probably a big crucial point in the relationship between the citizens and the council moving in that negative direction.”
City Center fits the needs
Smith said that he wanted to explore if City Center was still the right place for city workers to be.
“I was quickly able to figure out, we’re kind of, I don’t want to say sweetheart deal, but we’re almost getting a sweetheart deal through this lease. There’s no other lease designed like it where we’re paying essentially a mortgage where we are taking principal off with each lease payment, so that when we do go to buy the building, whether it’s 20 years or five years … it won’t be the original [cost],” Smith said.
Smith says that is the most important thing for citizens to know.
“We are paying down principal with every lease payment,” Smith said.
The second most important thing is the sunk cost already invested, if the city were to relocate once more and vacate City Center.
“It would probably be a minimum of $500,000 just to build a vault somewhere else. We’re probably looking in the range of another $3 million to renovate a place like the Brilli