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Forest City council cites child care, golf course repairs as priorities

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With child care continuing to be a top priority in Forest City, the city council on Nov. 21 approved a resolution authorizing $25,000 of support in the form of TIF funds to the Forest City YMCA’s daycare operations.

Forest City YMCA Executive Director Bruce Mielke acknowledged it has become much more difficult to find workers and provide wages to retain them, as is the case across the country.

“We can make a go of it through sustained charitable contributions,” said Mielke, citing the Hanson Foundation and the City of Forest City being at the top of that list.

The city has obligated funds to the Forest City YMCA’s daycare as an annual appropriation since 2018. The resolution noted that the YMCA has communicated how previous funds have been used and how the fiscal year 2024 funds are intended to be used.

“I’ve been a strong supporter of this program since we’ve had it,” Council Member Tony Mikes said. “I think there is enough square footage, but it is a staffing issue and it has been for several years. I think it is a good use of funds and I know you are using them responsibly.”

Mielke noted that about $2 million of the Forest City YMCA’s annual budget goes to providing child care at two sites, which includes stand-alone care for the youngest children. He also cited ongoing building upkeep needs and the increased growth in the number of children and families in the area.

“There is a need for child care,” said Mielke, noting that the YMCA’s daycare waiting list is 30-40 families currently with most of them being unborn babies. “They must sign up early. Institutional and in-house, I think we need a mix.”

Council members also heard from Winnebago County Engineer Scott Meinders before unanimously approving a board of adjustment zoning variance for construction to replace an existing county maintenance shed in Forest City.

The variance will allow for the reconstruction of the current storage building located at the west end of 135 South Central Street. Meinders said the building to be replaced was built in 1945, and has asbestos, structural, and electrical issues. He noted it will be replaced in the same footprint at an estimated cost of $600,000-$800,000.

The approved zoning variance says there were no other locations on the property available to build a building of the same size and maintain a functional layout. Meinders said construction could start in the spring, if everything goes as hoped.

The council approved a request from Jason Sopko to bow hunt for deer at his property located at 605 Highway 9 in Forest City. Sopko reminded council members that the 13 acres is zoned as agricultural land and is located behind the former Pizza Hut location near the intersection of Highways 9 and 69.

The council has approved similar applications on a case-by-case and yearly basis as one means to help control local deer populations, especially near high traffic areas of the city.

“There’s nobody back there,” said Sopko, noting he would not shoot toward adjacent solar panels, motorhomes (Lichtsinn’s RV), or highway traffic.

“We’ve done this before,” Council Member Dan Davis said. “I have no problem with it.”

Council members, Mayor Ron Holland, and city staff discussed at length plans for a financial support agreement with Bear Creek Golf Course. Although no action was taken on the item at the meeting, Daisy Huffman and several council members noted that the current proposal looks to provide $25,000 annually for maintenance of bridges and trails plus $60,000 annually for a period of time. Those funds would go towards costs associated with the necessary bridge replacement on the 11th hole as well as the badly needed replacement of the irrigation system on the front nine holes.

It was noted that the golf course board would be able to secure loan financing from a local financial institution and that the city allocations could support loan repayment. City Administrator Daisy Huffman said that since the golf course is not located in a TIF district, allocations may have to come from means such as local option or hotel/motel taxes. She noted that if the city borrowed the money, it would count against the city’s debt limit.

At least one council member also argued that the city has done everything necessary to keep the municipal swimming pool open despite some major expenses over the last several years, saying it is only fair to do the same for the golf course that is a big draw for the city. New bids would have to be sought for the irrigation system replacement, which was estimated at $600,000 nearly two years ago and could rise. Huffman expressed optimism that the golf course bridge replacement could be completed at a cost of less than $20,000 for drain tiles that will be allowed in the bridge structure replacement, per a recent hydrology study. However, it remains to be seen what the additional costs associated with the replacement/installation will be.

Huffman was directed to continue working on an agreement. She will report back to the council members, which will take up the matter again at a future meeting.

In other business, the council:

  • Approved a fireworks application of the Forest City Education Foundation for Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 in the vicinity of the Forest City Courthouse. Approval of the Winnebago County Board of Supervisors is also needed for the fireworks portion of the Foundation’s New Year’s Eve event.
  • Approved final payment of $13,070.00 to K&W Coatings, LLC of Elkader for the water tower upgrade and repainting project (Winnebago Industries complex). The city is required to wait 30 days from acceptance to issue the payment.
  • Heard from Electric Department Supervisor Duane Kuhn that capacitor banks for the city’s electric substation upgrade project were expected to arrive during the week. Kuhn said they would likely not be installed until spring.

Rob Hillesland is community editor for the Summit-Tribune. He can be reached at 641-421-0534, or by email at rob.hillesland@globegazette.com.

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