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UPDATE: Caledonia Conservancy Receives DNR Grant

Fran Martin, president of the Conservancy, said the money would be used to purchase land that will connect their trails.

UPDATE: The Caledonia Conservancy has tentatively received about $130,000 from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Grant, which is funded by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and private businesses and citizens. Fran Martin, president for the group, said the money would be used to purchases 15.3 acres of land on Short Road and Five Mile Road from Karen "Henni" Keland.

The Village Board can adopt or reject the grant. However, they have already issued a letter of support for the project. One of the concerns the Village Board had was that the property would be removed from the tax roll and the Village would lose the tax money. However, Martin said the amount they would lose would amount to about 15 percent of $600.

ORIGINAL STORY: The Caledonia Conservancy is looking to buy and preserve more undeveloped land and that has some Village Board members unhappy.

The nonprofit is looking to buy 14 acres of land on Short Road just north of Five Mile Road from Karen Henrietta Keland. To help buy the land, the Conservancy is seeking a Knowles-Nelson grant from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to pay for half of the cost of the property.

The group needed a letter of support from the Village Board for the grant application, which it has received. But the approval process revealed concerns among some Village Board members over the Conservancy's efforts, which removes lands from Caledonia's property tax base.

When the Conservancy purchases a property it becomes undevelopable and therefore is no longer taxable, but only if it was developable in the first place. Some of the property they’ve acquired was not developable and was not taxed. The Short Road property generates about $670 per year in property taxes. 

According to 2009 tax documents on the Conservancy website, the non-profit group owns land valued at $1.4 million, which is not subject to state or federal taxes. But it is land subject to county, municipal, Racine Unified, and Gateway taxes.

Fran Martin, president of the Caledonia Conservancy, said "property values are entered in the Caledonia Conservancy books at the value as of the date of transfer, which may or may not be currently correct." 

The purpose of the nonprofit is to “preserve the rural character of the Village.” They acquire land through purchases, land easement agreements, and grants.

Village Board member Kevin Wanggaard took issue with the loss of tax base with this most recent request.

“Right now we’re looking at a loss of tax base, and even though this is a small amount – those small numbers add up,” Wanggaard said.

However, Martin pointed to the expansion of Caledonia’s recreational area and said the maintenance of the trails is managed by the Conservancy at no cost to the village.

But there is a cost when tax revenues aren’t coming into the village and other taxing entities, Wanggaard argued. His concern is part of a wider review of the village, which is studying tax-exempt status of all property within Caledonia.

He also took issue with the Conservancy's claims that the trails are accessible to the public. Some trails are not entirely open to the public, and one trail had a no trespassing sign on it, Wanggaard said.

Sandy DeWalt, of the Conservancy, said the no trespassing sign was put up by the County years ago and that they intended to take it down. Martin said all of the trails are open to the public.

Wanggaard disagreed. 

“These grants are being received on trails that are public trails, but they are trails the public doesn’t have to be let on to,” Wanggaard said.

This is somewhat, but not entirely, true, Martin said.

In an email, Martin explained:

“We acquire trail properties as they become available, some by donation, some by purchase, some by purchase via the Knowles-Nelson fund. The Conservancy properties are all open to the public, and are all (except for one small portion near the trout ponds prairie) accessible to the public without crossing private land. Some, though, connect to trails on private property, and the private property landowners graciously allow public equestrian use, but not, typically, other uses. (H)owever, that would be at the discretion of the landowners.”

Martin said the property the Conservancy is looking to purchase would give public access to a trail the Conservancy now owns.

During Village Board debate on the issue, Village Engineer Mike Hayek reminded board members that the Conservancy’s request was in line with the village’s land-use plan.

The board voted to grant the Conservancy’s request.

Duane Michalski July 22, 2011 at 11:30 PM
So let me get this straight...they want taxpayer money to buy land that they won't have to pay the village taxes on? Time to call Rep. Vos as well as Sen. Wanggard and tell them NOT to allow this to happen! I think it is about time these lands are taxed at a rate for what they are used for...FOR PROFIT BUSINESS!! And yes there is a profit margin on these lands, the value of land in Caledonia has never really declined. So if the conservancy ever chose to sell this land, one could believe they would profit from the sale of said land. I know they (the conservancy) think they will be around for ever, but nothing is a guarantee. Just like the for profit (all) horse boarders that have land in Ag. because of the cheaper tax rate...more garbage. I think it is time for the board to address these issues. I think it is time that everyone starts to pay their fair share. I am certain it would go a long way in making it easier to balance the village budget if people paid what they should pay.
Andy July 23, 2011 at 12:20 AM
Oh for pete's sake, grow up. Kevin Wangaard is being vindictive and immature, waging his little personal vendetta against the Conservancy because they had the audacity to challenge him in a free and open election. Apparently the prospect of losing that Taxpayer paid pension (yes, the Village Taxpayers have been paying Kevin's portion of his State WRS pension contribution for all these years) was upsetting to him. Oh, yes, and that salary he makes for showing up all of about four hours per month (from the taxpayers of course). He claims to be concerned about budget but somehow has not done a single productive thing to develop an INTELLIGENT VISION for the community to earn that Paycheck and Pension we're giving him. For 4 hours worth of sitting in a chair each month. And by the way, he originally RAN on keeping the rural character of the community. Flip flop much?
Lex July 23, 2011 at 02:23 AM
The Conservancy basically provides free parks for people that enhance the quality of life here and provide countless hours of manpower to maintain them an ungrateful politician is complaining?? What next- he'll be saying nonprofit churches are a bad thing too??!
San July 23, 2011 at 11:21 AM
there is a false premise here to this debate. undeveloped land costs less in services to the village than any development that occurs. communities that choose to keep large amounts of green space tend to have far lower costs than the revenues that most types of development bring in; so in other words, the village saves money by having more green space in general. Only very specific types of development are cash flow positive to villages and those types have to fit in with land use plan patterns and needs. In this case, the land use plan agrees with the intended use, and the development and access of recreation and trails benefits caledonia as a "draw" for future residential development as it makes caledonia a more desirable community for the kind of development that actually provides more revenue than cost, namely low and moderate density residential development. sometimes we get so fixated on revenues that we forget the expense side of the ledger; and sometimes so fixated on "development" that we lose the very values that provide future development potential. there is a balance that must be struck. The land use plan already takes the proposed use into account. Parks, trails, recreational opportunities all add real value to a community, reduce stress, and increase desirability over the long term.
Lex July 24, 2011 at 01:13 PM
Is the article informative or seeking controversy? The headline says the village board is concerned with the Conservancy, but the article quotes only one person, Kevin Waangard. This can give a false impression because after all the village board and Mr. Waangard approved the letter of support. The URL link looks inflammatory when it declares the village board "irritated". http://caledonia.patch.com/articles/village-board-irritated-with-caledonia-conservancy-over-land-purchase?ncid=following_comment
Brian Dey July 27, 2011 at 12:58 AM
I'm going to have to take issue with a lot of what is stated here. If the land is the land I think it is, that parcel has an existing home on it and could be refurbished which would make it far more valuable than tax base than it currently is. This land is developed so it should not be considered. Second, the Conservancy has done some good things for the Village, but claiming that the horse trails are some how public use is not entirely true. If the trail is connected by private land, and those owners only allow equestrian recreation, it is not public. Only when called on it, does the Conservancy say they will take it down. These land grabs cost the village and they are adamant about any development that could offset the costs. As far as being cost neutral, that also isn't true. Any accidents on the trails would involve extraordinary efforts for rescue. Any fires deep inside the trails would need resources the village currently doesn't have. I'll be posting my take on this in the coming days but people need to get the facts.
Denise Lockwood July 27, 2011 at 01:10 AM
Brian, It's not the land with the house on it, but it's adjacent to that parcel.
Brian Dey July 27, 2011 at 01:19 AM
Denise- Do you know if the part with house and barn will become a seperate parcel?
B July 27, 2011 at 02:36 AM
I would like clarification on the line in the article "Some of the property they’ve acquired was not developable and was not taxed." From my understanding and experience, it doesn't mater if the land you own is a wetland, if it is zoned R2 it is being taxed at the same rate (X amount per the 1st acre and Y amount for every acre after that) as land that has a house on it.
Brian Dey December 08, 2011 at 01:22 AM
Just to clarify earlier statements, the parcel is exactly as Fran Martin described and the village would only lose about $150 in property tax per year. This would connect the horse trails, which if some entrepeneur would start a riding stable for public use, this could bring people to the village.
mau December 08, 2011 at 02:43 AM
I've lived in Caledonia 30 years and this is the first time I have heard that there is Conservancy recreational area. I always assumed the conservancy land was for use by the elitist equestrians only.
mau December 08, 2011 at 02:44 AM
No Walmart across from their property.
ms December 08, 2011 at 03:33 AM
Since this land is being purchased with money from the DNR, does that require that the land be made available for hunting? It wold be great if the conservancy would trap the Erie street turkeys and let them go here for hunting.
Frances Martin December 08, 2011 at 06:37 PM
Do you oppose churches as well? They do require much more in the way of village services--police, fire protection, sewer and water, etc.than conservancy land. I don't attend those churches, but I'm not opposed to their taxfree status because I agree with the underlying assumption that there's a broad spectrum of organizations which exist for for the public good. That doesn't mean that every citizen of Caledonia has to benefit by attending all or any of those churches, or that every person walks on the Conservancy trails. The Conservancy does have public walking trails on all Conservancy land, maintained by volunteers, and we do have signs on all of them stating so. My hunch is that the value of non-taxed property of other organizations, religious and otherwise, vastly exceeds any possible revenue from Conservancy owned land, and they can sell those for a substantial profit if they choose,as did the church which was formerly on the corner of Newman Road and 31 (now a mall). Does that make churches for -profit enterprises? I don't think so. BTW,Duane, land purchased with DNR grants can not ever be sold--if the Conservancy ceased to exist the property would either go to another non-profit with similar aims, or to the DNR itself.
jo march December 14, 2011 at 02:59 AM
Most of the land safeguard by the Conservancy (and Kenosha Racine Land Trust) is protected because it is irreplaceable: last stand of naturally occurring beach trees east of the Mississippi, marker trees used by Native Americans to navigate from Chicago to Milwaukee...AND is zoned so as to allow for limited residential/conservation development. Land protected with DNR funds are public properties, maintained at no cost (manpower, equipment, time) by the Conservancy - in essence a free park system. The latest acquisition protects pre-settlement woodlands....plenty of flat farm fields for development. Check Zoning, Southeast Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, Racine County and Town of Caledonia land use planning documents - land that is safeguarded is rigorously screened by an extremely conservative state government and passes muster. Something to be proud of, I'd say.

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