In the end, there was a call for a show of hands that showed the Town Board what the residents of Rutland thought of a measure on the floor. And then it passed with no dissent.
On Wednesday, April 3, the Town Board voted 3-0, with Sup. Dave Grueneberg abstaining, to eliminate the $50-per-raceday fee from the ordinance governing the Madison International Speedway.
The fee, which board chair Mark Porter said had been waived since its inception in 1987, was put in place to deal with potentially uncooperative track operators, Grueneberg explained. But the board was uncomfortable with continuously waiving a fee that was on its books, and asked for it to be paid when MIS applied for its license in February.
The town called a public hearing to determine whether to remove the fee from the ordinance, and about 45 people packed into the Town Hall, with a dozen speaking to the issue.
Harley Stokstad, who said his family has owned land “about a quarter-mile” from the track since 1900, said the business should be left alone.
“I don’t know what the complaining is about,” he said. “We’ve never had a speck of trouble with these guys.”
“Sometimes you violate an ordinance – it’s just like farming. If you can’t get your crops in, you have to work at night. If you have a rain delay or a bad accident, sure they’re going to go over (time restrictions) sometimes.”
Sup. Deana Zentner said at the meeting she wasn’t comfortable voting to waive the fee if the track isn’t complying with other provisions of its agreements with the county and town.
The racetrack is operating out of compliance with at least two other, relatively minor provisions in its agreement with the town, the county’s zoning administrator found.
But Porter and town clerk Dawn George made clear the only element up for debate at the meeting was the ordinance, specifically the part of the ordinance governing the fee, and that there would be no changes to the documents that govern things like how many races the track can have or what time it can have them.
The meeting was the day after the election that saw a new chair and two candidates on opposite sides of this issue. Peter Loughrin was elected chair after running unopposed, and he said at the meeting he’d prefer to keep the status quo – waiving the fee but keeping it in the ordinance as a possible enforcement mechanism. He said the possibility of the fee was enough of an inducement to bring the track owner to the Town Board meetings and comply with town wishes on things like the schedule.
In the same election, Grueneberg beat challenger David Krueger by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. Grueneberg had previously managed the track for 15 years and did not want to see the fee charged, while Krueger has said he wants to increase fees on the track significantly.
Porter, in his last meeting as chair, pointed out the town retains the ultimate enforcement tool of not issuing the track its operating license, which it has to reapply for every year, along with a $500 fee.
Many residents spoke in favor of the race track, the business it brings to the town and the track’s operators, Gregg and Angie McKarns, who were in attendance.
Just before the vote, Zentner asked for a show of hands about how many people wanted to see the fee removed. It appeared that more than half of those in attendance raised their hands, and the vote passed.