News
Mayor’s veto of using ARPA funds for ice rink upheld

By Sarah Nigbor

RIVER FALLS – In a 3-3 vote, Mayor Dan Toland’s veto of a resolution designat –

ing $100,000 toward an out – door skating rink as part of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act spending plan was upheld, meaning the resolu – tion approved at the April 12 meeting was vetoed. At the April 12 meeting, the council approved 4-3 the ARPA spending plan with a friendly amendment to allocate $100,000 toward an outdoor ice rink project at Glen Park. Alderperson Sean Downing proposed the amendment, saying it would allow people to partner with community businesses and hopefully build an ice rink within two years rather than waiting to complete the Glen Park Master Plan. While all council mem- bers and Toland agree an outdoor ice-skating rink is needed in the community, they diuer on how to accom –

plish the goal. Per state statute, a two-

See MAYOR’S VETO, Page 9

River Falls Parks & Recreation Advisory Board Chair Patricia LaRue expresses her support of building an outdoor ice rink in a city park using $100,000 of American Rescue Plan Act funds, at the April 26 River Falls City Council meeting.

Photo by Sarah Nigbor Mayor’s Veto

Page 1

thirds vote (five council members) is re

– quired to override the veto. The mayor's memo, which he read aloud, listed his objec –

tions to the $100,000 ice rink appropriation:

• I don't wish for sta to be distracted from current priorities and important projects by adding a $100,000 ice rink project to the list. I also am not in favor of adding the wage study or transportation utility feasibility to the work plan for 2022.

• We have an established, thoughtful and proven process of identifying community priorities and getting them implemented. The ice rink project is not on the current priority list.

• $100,000 can be better spent on items pre

– viously identified as current priorities. In fact, I would prefer that amount of money be used toward ash tree replacements.

• $100,000 does not match either the $700,000 estimate for a warming house/ outdoor rink (2014) or the more recent (2022) $50,000 estimate for a basic out –

door rink.

• I wish to wait for the completion of the comprehensive planning process to see if the ice rink remains a priority for the com – munity among the many desired park and recreation investments that may be identi –

fied in the outdoor recreation plan. Patricia LaRue, chair of the Parks & Rec

– reation Advisory Board, spoke during public comment before the veto vote in favor of Downing's amendment. She said the Park Board, who met last week, voted unanimous – ly to support using $100,000 of ARPA funds for the outdoor rink. She also provided the council with some background as to how the ice rink's priority moved down in the parks' master plan. The Park Board began forming master plans for Homan and Glen parks in 2012, LaRue said. By 2015, the plan was ready to go to the public. The board had budgeted $600,000 for a park shelter with bathrooms in Glen Park, but the city council voted to accept a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant; the caveat for accept – ing the grant was that the city had to build a storm shelter with a basement, solid concrete walls and a roof that can withstand a torna – do. This storm shelter cost significantly more than the budgeted $600,000, so the board had adjust its budget to accommodate the twist. It considered cutting the new parking lot and roadway design in Glen Park and just repav – ing what was already there. "However, City Engineer Reid Wronski advised the city funds were best spent in the infrastructure of the park, totally redoing the parking spaces, the turnaround for the buses and to let the children o by the park," LaRue said. "We were told things like the sports court, the ice-skating rink and playground equipment are features private individuals or community groups would adopt and fund in the future." The Park Board followed that advice, plus added a splash pad. The ice rink, playground equipment and sports court were put on hold. "It's not that the ice rink wasn't a priority or that it wasn't important," LaRue said. "We were just told that some project, some group would come in and put in a skating rink. Here we are five years later and no rink." LaRue also reminded the council of the Kinni Corridor Plan's overarching goal to make River Falls a four-season destination. Alderperson Scott Morrissette, an ice rink advocate, had a dierent viewpoint on using ARPA funds for the rink. He implored coun –

cil members to follow the city's proven pro

cess for vetting projects.

"Citizens look to the city council to im

– plement deliberate and vetted fiscal policy," Morrissette said. "We do this by prioritizing the needs of the city, and when possible, the wants." Since 2012, he has been advocating for a redo of Riverwalk, but that hasn't been made a priority in the city's work or fiscal plans, Morrissette said. He also approached the River Falls Rotary about taking on the ice rink and warming house project, but the group declined. "I continue to raise both Riverwalk and the ice arena or ice-skating rink during coun – cil workshops and will continue to do so in the future," Morrissette said. "While I am disappointed that these projects have not yet made the final list, I understand that they are in some respect, wants and not needs.

"The process can be slow and frustrating, but it allows the policy-setting body, this council, to be very deliberate." It's also important to provide sta with clear direction on how and when to proceed, he added. The amendment told city sta to decide where to cut spending in the ARPA plan in order to accommodate the $100,000 ice rink addition.

"This helps to ensure that the planning, engineering, budgeting, bidding is done in an eective manner that ultimately benefits the taxpayers," Morrissette said. "I have said in the past and I will say it again: A pot of mon – ey in search of a project is poor fiscal policy." During council discussion on the veto, Downing made his case. He said they wouldn't even be having this conversation had it not been for the $1.6 million in ARPA funds awarded to the city. "It provides an option to save money in the long-run as we go about getting grants using what I call 'save as you go spending,' where the current long-term plan would not since it relies more heavily on taxes and not acquiring community block grants or ARPA. ARPA gives us an opportunity for something to build o from and save money while ac – complishing priorities," Downing said. He stressed that he had no hard feelings toward anyone who doesn't agree with his proposal, but he feels the ARPA funds are an unexpected gift that should be spent on com – munity projects that are long overdue. "I did not expect to get a majority support in our last meeting but I was happy to see the majority of our community's elected ocials could see this materializing," Downing con – tinued. At the council's February workshop where ARPA allocations were discussed, it wasn't common knowledge at that time that a basic rink could be built for $100,000, including possible lighting and smaller heated benches, Downing said. The allotted time also didn't provide for a broader, more in-depth discus – sion. The amount he's suggesting allocating is a far cry from the estimated $750,000 it would take to build an expensive warming house, rink and sport court. That could come later, he said. "Having an ice rink with basic ameni – ties is better than having no ice rink at all," Downing said. Because of its cost intensity, a warming house hurts just getting a basic proj – ect done in the more immediate future, but something right now is better than nothing." Alderperson Diane Odeen, who voted against the amendment April 12, said Down – ing's comments inspired some of her own. "We as a council, with sta in committees, have had, generally have plenty of time to de –

bate projects," Odeen said. "We spend signif

– icant time talking about our various priorities in the city." She pointed out the city's five-year fiscal plan, annual budgeting meetings and work – shops, the Capital Improvement Plan and the current comprehensive, park, and bike & pe – destrian planning as avenues to discuss an ice rink's priority. "The Comprehensive Plan will allow cit – izens to identify a rink as a priority," Odeen said. Going Downing's route probably won't get a rink done faster, she added. "We need to trust our process as it has served us well," she closed. "I think we do our best work when we have the most infor – mation." Morrissette jumped back in, saying his plea was for council members to follow the city's fiscal process. ARPA allows for fiscal capacity to fund projects after a well-thoughtout planning, budgeting, design and bidding process. "Whether or not this veto is sustained or overridden, I hope that the public comes out, goes to the public listening sessions for the Park Plan, the Comprehensive Plan and the Bike & Ped Plan and engages and tells us that that's a priority," Morrissette said. Alderperson Nick Carow, who had voted in favor of the $100,000 ice rink allocation, said he likes that the council seeks to disagree without being disagreeable. While the mayor does have a right to assert a veto, it's rare and has only been exercised six times in the past 20 years.

"This feels a bit like in relationships or marriage where we agree on a goal, but sometimes not how we get to those goals," Carow said. "It is possible that as a council we have let progress be stifled by process." Carow said he surveyed 73 municipalities with populations between 10,000 and 26,000 in Wisconsin and of those, about 50% have an outdoor rink of some sort. Many are sim –

ple, some without lighting. "Does it need to be hundreds of thou

– sands of dollars?" Carow said. "The goal is to get where people can skate and realize a four-season vision for our parks." ARPA wasn't just designed as a back-fill for all priorities, Carow stressed. It was also meant to put projects out into the public that can be seen, touched and enjoyed. "Looking around, I know we probably don't have the votes and that's okay, but hopefully this discussion as council and com – munity, we can create fresh ideas to solve this and move forward," he said. Alderperson Alyssa Mueller, who April 12 also voted in favor of the amendment (along with Alderperson Ben Plunkett, who did not seek re-election and was replaced by Je Bjork), brought up another concern about the veto: The elimination of a wage study. How – ever, Mueller thought a pay equity study was being eliminated by the veto. A pay equity study is a tool governments and employers can use to make sure employees, such as women, people of color and other margin – alized groups, are being paid equitably. City Administrator Scot Simpson confirmed the study in question is a standard wage study, which the city conducts every few years. Mueller also said more winter outdoor recreation opportunities are needed for fami – lies in River Falls. "When we don't have winter activities for free for families to do, it creates an undue fi –

nancial hardship," Mueller said. "There's no

– where in River Falls where you can ice skate or play hockey for free." Before the veto was upheld (Bjork ab –

stained from voting as he wasn't on the coun

– cil April 12 when the original amendment passed), Toland said he appreciated how Carow described the council. "I think he's right. I think we all want the same thing," Toland said. "We all want an ice-skating rink, we want something like that for our community. We just have dierent ways of going about it." Because the council vote upheld the veto, the council will need to vote again on the original resolution for the ARPA spending plan in May.

May 3, 2022