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UW-Baraboo board to solicit input from Platteville, while housing company projects tax payment next month

May 17, 2019

The company that owns the Baraboo college student dormitories hopes to pay its delinquent tax bill next month, according to a Sauk County attorney, but city and county officials who oversee the campus took steps to explore their options Thursday.

Iowa-based Bluffstone LLC hasn’t paid city of Baraboo taxes in about a year and a half for dorms located on the University of Wisconsin-Platteville Baraboo Sauk County campus. Members of the UW Campus Commission have previously discussed the issue but shied away from taking over management of The Villas at Baraboo, which would happen if they terminated Bluffstone’s lease.

Debra O’Rourke, Sauk County assistant corporation counsel, said Pat Sherman of Bluffstone told her the company expects to sell one of its properties in mid-June. Those funds would then be used to pay the delinquent taxes “in full,” she said.

As of June 1, the company will owe more than $90,000 in personal property taxes, including monthly interest and penalties, according to city Finance Director Cynthia Haggard.

Baraboo Mayor Mike Palm advocated for setting a deadline for the payment. He sat in for City Administrator Ed Geick at Thursday’s meeting.

“I think, you know, give them a reasonable amount of time and … we put them on notice, we write a letter and say we expect payment on or before (the deadline) or we will start court proceedings,” Palm said. “I don’t know what else to do. Bluffstone’s been asked to come; I haven’t seen them.”

O’Rourke said in an interview later that Sherman wasn’t asked to be at the meeting Thursday. Sherman was expected to speak at the commission’s February meeting but couldn’t attend for personal reasons. He hasn’t been invited to any others, O’Rourke said.

While the commission didn’t set any deadlines Thursday, Palm made a motion to explore options with the UW-Platteville Real Estate Foundation, which owns two dorms on that campus. It passed unanimously.

O’Rourke supported the idea of finding out how the foundation would help if Bluffstone continues to default on the lease and the city and county need to take over.

“What assistance will Platteville give us? Are we going to handle that ourselves? How are you going to do that, because you need to have a plan in place,” she told the commission.

If Bluffstone pays the tax bill next month, Palm said the commission should amend the lease to require the company to escrow for taxes — meaning set aside money on a regular basis — “so we don’t get in this mess again.”

Bluffstone built The Villas at Baraboo after entering into an agreement with local government and university officials in February 2014.

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