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Letters regarding dog track purchase for Hudson school district

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Letter: Time to 'pay it forward'

Dear Editor

I urge the taxpayers, voters and good people of Hudson to support the referendum to purchase the St. Croix Meadows dog track by voting "yes" on April 3. 

If you read the Hudson Star-Observer regularly, you are aware that there is a small but extremely negative contingency that fills up the columns of the opinion page almost weekly. If those folks have children, it's possible that many are or were educated in the public schools (if not in Hudson, then somewhere). The local taxpayers, voters and good people in those communities invested in education to build schools and programs to benefit those kids. 

The Hudson school board and Superintendent Mary Bowen-Eggebraaten are offering a solid, reasonable, and good faith solution and this community needs to move forward with positive momentum and positive energy. The time is now, whether you have students in the Hudson schools like I do or not. It's a "pay it forward" for Hudson students, just as the good people who came before us did for our children.  

I heard recently that the taxpayers in Woodbury will be contributing to a $16 million dollar renovation of the Bielenberg Sports Complex -- with improvements to make it nicer, a new snack bar and new sheet of ice. What a wonderful asset for that community! 

We need a new asset in our community too, otherwise known as adequate "secondary space for learning" -- a new school. I plan to vote "yes" on April 3 and I hope you do too.  

Susan Richards, Hudson

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Letter: Vote 'yes' for dog track

Dear Editor

I love you, Hudson. I didn't know it right away when we bought our little house in 1993. But you quickly conspired to capture my heart with your River Town vibe, your historic "main street," your Phipps, your library, your balloons and your band shell. But I wasn't really committed to you yet.

Then two children came along and, five years later, a first introduction to Hudson Schools. A lackluster or flawed experience here and I would have walked away from everything else I loved about you. But Hudson Schools did not disappoint. In fact, I was impressed with the curriculum standards, the teachers, the programs in support of art, music, sports, leadership, volunteerism -- the list goes on.

Today, mine are known as 'Houlton Kids' who've watched plays at the high school, learned to swim at the middle school, taken community ed. classes at Willow and watched balloon launches from E.P. Rock. Clearly, Hudson Schools are an integral part of the fabric of this community.

Today, Hudson's secondary schools are gasping under the weight of overcrowding. Many teachers, with no desks to work from, roll "cart classrooms" from place to place. At the high school, students who cannot navigate overly congested hallways opt to walk outside the building to make their next class. Space for band, choir, orchestra, sports and so many other programs is maxed and more students are enrolling every year. The situation is not sustainable.

If we do not provide our secondary students with proper facilities to support quality learning, then how can we say we care about this community? The purchase of the St. Croix Meadows dog track is the most fiscally sound, future-minded solution for Hudson. Get the facts about the land purchase at www.voteyeshudson.com, attend an open forum in February or March to hear from your school board about our situation and the dog track land purchase opportunity (dates/times/place listed at the same website). Volunteer to help ensure that Hudson gets this needed new school site. Then, vote "yes" on April 3.

Do it because you love Hudson too.

Ellen Montgomery, Hudson

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Letter: Doesn't see school's plan

Dear Editor

I moved to Hudson a few years ago and I've been reading in the Star-Observer as much as possible about a school at the dog track; as someone who plans to have children in the next few years, I have a personal vested interest in a strong and modern school. I am also a business leader who puts in 12 hour days on top of 1.5 hour commutes each way (I don't have time to attend information sessions and board meetings on the subject).

As a business leader, I see this project along the same lines; we the people are being asked to fund a project, however, as best I can tell, are not being given the basic element of a common sense business plan. If I were to approach my Board of Directors with a vague plan to simply acquire a piece of property (at roughly $3 million over fair market value no less), had no scope statement, didn't outline the risks, didn't commit my staff to be accountable for the final project, and most importantly, clearly list the return my investors could expect, I'd be denied outright (and likely be out of a job).

A business plan is what gets projects off the ground, but they must include these elements; when they do not, and the investors are foolish enough to  go forward, companies can fail and people ultimately suffer the consequences of a shortsighted indulgence of 'investor' funds (apparently a property known as UU is an example which would fit here).

At the end of the day, I expect the board to chase my "yes" vote via news articles, letters, whatever medium necessary; find me and sell me on the plan and why it makes sense (after all, you want my money), and ultimately be ready to answer tough questions while spending my tax dollars. With all this said, if we do not clearly see these basic elements prior to the vote, I would advise a "no" vote amongst my neighbors.

Adam Augst, Hudson

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Letter: An action to enable

Dear Editor

Soon residents will have the opportunity to support a referendum to purchase the St. Croix Meadows dog track for future school district use. Although I am retired, I plan to vote yes for this action. You might wonder why.

Having over the years lived in a number of communities, I have observed that the vibrancy of a community is directly related to its schools. While persons living in a community often take the schools for granted, persons seeking to resettle are quick to explore the quality of the schools. These individuals will not only want to know where their children will be enrolled but what are size of classes, what is the availability of extracurricular activities, and so much more. When a community is proud of its schools, the community profits by being able to advertise having an educated talent pool. The pride and results go hand in hand. Good schools draw resources and talented newcomers to them.

The quality of life also is enhanced by schools that prepare and graduate talented musicians, artists, actors, athletes, sales persons, service workers, skilled artisans, communication experts and all the other skills enabled by a robust curriculum. Employers are drawn to such communities. So too are retirees. When a community lacks quality schools, the vibrancy of the community soon becomes diminished. People move away. Businesses close. Buildings stand empty. Property values fall. I do not want to live in such a location.

You might think buying a piece of property that has stood idle for years, but which is located on already built infrastructure, is a bad thing to do because the exact use has not been declared. I do not. Rather, I see this as an opportunity for the school district and community to position itself to meet future educational requirements of its citizens of all ages including retired folks such as myself. I know there will be new requirements for technologies, learning modalities, and services not possible to provide in the current facilities. Thus, I am ready to vote yes. I hope you agree.

Burton O. Witthuhn, Hudson

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Letter: Track is worth $8.25M

Dear Editor

As a commercial real estate professional that specializes in western Wisconsin, I know that the $8.25 million purchase price for the dog track is a good value. I have been approached by many people about recent letters in which the writer states that the price of the dog track is too high based on the fair market value as identified on the property tax statement and I wish to provide some fact based information about the value of the dog track.

Currently, many county valuations are too high as the property was purchased in the peak of the market, others are too low as there has not been a recent transaction on the property and the valuation does not keep up with actual values and some are close to the actual value. One thing I can state with certainty is that no real estate appraiser considers the fair market value as determined by the county when appraising the property to establish a market value. Instead they consider recent comparable sales, replacement cost and the income approach.

The cost to construct the dog track was approximately $40,000,000. The fair market value reached a peak in 1993 of $25,012,100. From 1993 to 2001 the county fair market valuation was reduced four times until it reached $11,256,600. These reductions where a direct result of the dog track owner supplying information about the revenue generated by the dog track to assessor's office, which caused the valuation to be lowered. In 2002 the valuation of the dog track property dropped to $4,971,400 as the dog track had closed. Obviously the value of the land and buildings did not drop by 56 percent in one year.

The U-Line property located on the SW corner of Hanley and Hwy. 35 is a great comparable sale that an appraiser would use to establish value of the dog track property. This sale was approximately $2 per-square-foot and by the time they pay the city impact fees, the total cost without any improvements will be $2.25 psf which is substantially higher than the $1.50 psf cost of the dog track. The impact fees on the dog track are already paid by the original developer of the property.

I believe the dog track is a good value at $8,250,000 and urge you to vote "yes" for the referendum.

David Robson, Hudson

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Letter: Talks about school's needs

Dear Editor

In 2004, I was on a school facilities community task force that recommended that the Hudson School District add an additional elementary school and, over time, build a three-year high school to accommodate the forecasted increases in enrollment. That group considered over 30 options which included year-round scheduling, building permanent or temporary additions, new buildings, and even buying the dog track.

The issues at hand were taken seriously then, and they should be now. The new elementary school is called River Crest. And the time has come to address the secondary school needs. The need is no surprise.

After eight years, enrollment forecasts from 2004 are proving to be accurate and reliable.

I have been a Hudson resident for 23 years. After this spring, I will have no children in the school system. So, I have "no skin in this game." I could take the attitude this is nothing but additional taxes for which I will get "nothing" in return. I could, but I do not. I will put my money where my mouth is. I have no problem with additional taxes for a new secondary school. None. 

Our property taxes in Hudson are actually very reasonable for what is returned. A significant portion of the market value of our homes is directly tied to the quality of the school system.  

There is a lot of information that people need to learn and consider. I am convinced that the case for buying the dog track is made not with loud opinion and vitriolic attacks, but with the facts. Buying the dog track for school use because it is a remarkably good opportunity.

But that is not really where my feelings on this issue start.

I went to a large three-year high school that was designed for a maximum of about 2,200. In my senior year, there were over 3,000 in the building. In my senior year, my graduating class numbered over 1,000. It graduated about 660. One in three did not receive a diploma.  

That is factual and my point is very real. To think that "it can't happen here" is to think that it's not possible. But it is possible.

What I want to believe is simple because I know Hudson has done much better than that. That is why I raised my children here and it is why I want future Hudson school students to have better, too.

Vote "yes" on April 3.

Dan Bushman, Hudson

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Letter: Supports track purchase

Dear Editor

There are some great reasons why the purchase of the dog track property is the best investment for a much-needed secondary school for our community.  

This property is 126 acres of predominantly flat land that is already hooked up to city water and sewer. While the UU property is approximately 110 acres, it has rolling hills and with the required setbacks for a waste treatment plant (as it is not able to be hooked up to city water and sewer), it is not large enough to house both a school for over 2,000 students and a waste treatment plant. As a comparison, New Richmond High School was built on approximately 111 acres and River Falls High School was built on approximately 80 acres - both for only 1,200 students. As Hudson needs a school for over 2,000 students, this parcel of land is the best option. 

This property also has a four lane street and access ramps already in place to facilitate the significant amount of traffic associated with a secondary school at no additional cost. The school district can also utilize the existing infrastructure as well as part of the existing building to reduce construction costs on the future school.

The value of this infrastructure, city water and sewer and the access to this property make the "land" portion of this property almost free when looking at the total costs associated with building a new school.

While I understand that no one likes an increase in taxes, the cost of purchasing this land would be less than $25 on a property assessed at $250,000 (this is before the cost savings of the infrastructure). This is such a small cost for such a great investment for our community. In addition, due to the prudent fiscal policies of our school district, the cost of a new secondary school building will be partially mitigated by decreases in payments on the existing debt of the school district. This simply means that part of the cost of a new school will be covered by existing real estate tax levies.

Please visit www.voteyeshudson.com for additional information and reasons why this property is such a great investment for our community. We have a unique opportunity to secure land that will be the best investment for our community.  I ask you to please join me and vote "yes" on April 3.

Kim Brunner, Hudson

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