The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Mercer says vacation rental locations don't have permits


November 23, 2019


MERCER, Wis. — The Mercer Town Board of Supervisors on Thursday addressed the issue of the growing number of vacation rental units without permits.

There are at least three residential homes in the community are being used as tourist rooming houses, said John Sendra, town board chair during his report to the supervisors. The owners are advertising as vacation rentals through online rental agencies such as AirBnB and VRBO but as far as the city is aware, no one is paying lodging or other taxes and were never permitted to function as rentals, he said.

Some of the homeowners in question responded that they were told the taxes are paid for through the online rental agencies they work with, he said. This is being looked into but there is no evidence to show this as of yet, he said.

“We talked to the health department and we’re sending letters to the tourist rooming house people to please send in documentation to prove this,” Sendra said.

There are also zoning issues and health inspections and all the other things that come with permitting, he said. The permitting process is through the Mercer Township and Iron County, he said. 

A tourist rooming house application was denied by the supervisors at the October meeting for an incomplete application. The applicant owner of the Popko Circle East property had not contact neighbors of the property that is a requirement of the process.

In the township chair’s report, Sendra said that neighbors of the Popko Circle East property have since contacted the township to object to the property being used as a vacation rental if it were considered again.

Fritz Schellgell, legal counsel to the township, is looking into the language of the recently revised and approved sign and billboard ordinance. According to Sendra, the signage and billboard ordinances were merged and there are questions on new interpretations of the language.

“The verbiage might allow people to use the whole side building as a sign,” Sendra said.

Schellgell also looked into the question of public video or voice recordings of town board meetings. He determined that it is permissible provided the recording does not disrupt the meeting.

Sendra said he was sent information from Enbridge Inc. regarding the Line 5 pipeline that is planned to run across northern Wisconsin into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The current route is being opposed to run through tribal lands of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewas, and an alternate route would come as far south as Mellen, Wisconsin, which could present a windfall for communities along the alternate route.

After hearing a presentation on a staff solution to a garbage bag issue the township board directed Sendra to explore the matter further. There were complaints that the city’s garbage bags break and the solution involved residents purchasing their own bags and using stickers as proof of payment and using a lower price as an incentive.

Sendra said he received a letter from the Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center for violent sexual offenders notifying the township that an as yet unnamed individual being considered for release would be returned to Mercer as the home of record. Sendra expressed concern saying that if funding for the psychological and probational support were ever cut the town would be required to step up.

“This is potentially a severe problem,” Sendra said.

Sendra said parents of students at the Mercer School contacted him with concerns about a recent incident at the school. There is a video of the incident being passed around that shows fighting including a teacher and student.

“Somebody lost control and someone should have called 911,” Sendra said. 

Eric Snow, township supervisor, asked Sendra if he was speaking as the township president or as a concerned citizen. He wanted to know if this was a township issue or a school and law enforcement issue.

Sendra said he was speaking as a citizen and wanted more attention on the matter for the lack of response.

“School district policy was followed in handling the matter,” said Sheri Kopka, interim administrator of Mercer School District, via phone on Friday.

To protect student privacy Kopka said she could not comment further on the incident.

In the supervisor reports, Opal Roberts said her work to create a new cemetery records keeping system with databases, plot maps, photos and research to locate missing or incorrect information is complete. She requested a laptop computer to hold the new database, records and photos to which Sendra said would be provided.

Mike Lambert, supervisor, said there was funds provided for a tennis court adjacent to the basketball court in the township’s parks and recreation budget. After review there is no funds to be seen and the courts are expected to be completed this summer, he said.

Sendra said he and the staff will meet with parks and recreation to attempt to locate the funding that was approved.

Sendra said he would also meet with the city mechanic and the various departments to determine how much in-house maintenance can be performed on township vehicles rather than sending the work out to private sources.

The town board went into closed session regarding an employee-related agenda item. There was no action taken in the closed session, according to Roberts, during the meeting.

In other business, the township board approved:

- Buying a snowblower for the Transfer Station

- Introduced new Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Property Manager Beth Feind.

The next regular town board meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m., Dec. 5, in the Haines building, 2657W Railroad St.


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