Supervisors delay action on Empire Ranch issue |

Supervisors delay action on Empire Ranch issue

John Barrette

The Empire Ranch golf complex issue dominated Thursday's Board of Supervisors' meeting, but no action resulted, and the board also rejected a bid for an evening meeting about revisiting a city sales tax hike.

Those separate issues were the main agenda items of controversy. The question of the golfing land's fate, stemming from back taxes, took up the most time. Later, Supervisor Jim Shirk's motion to have a 6 p.m. meeting at the board's April 17 session over the one-eighth of a cent sales tax boost for capital projects took less time to discuss and failed 3-2. Shirk and Supervisor John McKenna favored it.

City Treasurer Al Kramer and Dwight Millard, owner of the 27-hole golfing complex, ended up urging delay even through Kramer originally brought a possible action item to the board.

"I like the idea of you guys pushing it down the road," Millard told board members, suggesting delay until August or for a couple of months. "It doesn't put you under the gun or me under the gun. Mr. Kramer gave us an out."

Kramer said he came seeking direction from the board on having the city take over the land if taxes go unpaid on the basis it is for a public purpose, but he said he could wait until August and lump it with other properties on which taxes are delinquent. Kramer said this matter dates from 2008 and required some public discussion.

Millard, meanwhile, signaled someone eventually will cough up the $185,000 in back taxes, though it may be more if years go by and with 10 percent ongoing interest.

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"Everybody pretty much knows that the taxes will be paid," he said, joking he would "hock my car" or something else would transpire when action comes. But he said the city needs land to distribute treated wastewater effluent because of federal dictates. He said he is due, by contract, 1,385 acre feet of water each year from the city. The pact at this stage allows the owner to break off with a year's notice.

Theresa Buzonik, an Empire Ranch resident, urged the board to think and plan carefully before acting, in part because "the homeowners have a very, very vested interest." Homeowners worry they might no longer live around a golf course.

The board agreed at least to await an appraisal of the land's value, possibly yet this month, and a report from the Public Works Department on the effluent distribution matter.

Shirk's unsuccessful motion to hold a night meeting on the sales tax issue, he said, was designed to give "working class citizens" another chance to weigh in now that the tax hike must be voted on twice more by the board. It was approved by 4-1 vote tallies on two occasions earlier. That came after three town hall meetings, one of them at night. The $1 million raised annually would go to bond several capital projects.

They are a multi-purpose athletic center, an animal shelter and streetscape changes aimed at enhancing Carson Street and East William Street business corridors. Lisa Schuette, the primary animal shelter advocate, said more evening public testimony or not, she hopes the board's super majority of four supporters would hold together and Shirk would join them. Four votes are required for the tax hike; just three were needed to decide the night meeting matter.

The majority to defeat Shirk's motion was forged by Mayor Robert Crowell, Supervisors Brad Bonkowski and Karen Abowd. They cited several previous meetings and Bonkowski said he had heard nothing new on the matter since a notice requirement gaffe put the issue back on the board's action radar screen, meaning the issue has to be revisited.

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