Sunflower Days May Bloom Again

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Kevin Murphy

TOWN OF MIDDLETON–The Town of Middleton Tourism Commission Monday cancelled Sunflower Days this summer and cast doubt on whether the event would ever be scheduled again.

Not only does a $15,045 deficit remain from last year’s flower festival but the current COVID-19 pandemic has caused the cancellation of other long-standing summer events including Madison’s Shake the Lake and Oshkosh’s Air Adventure.

As recently as early March, the town board was considering holding a scaled-back Sunflower Days at Pope Farm Conservancy as only $8,811 in room tax revenue, which partly funds the event, was expected to be available.

First quarter room tax revenue this year totaled $4,023 but the “Safer At Home” statewide order is expected to depress travel and the resulting revenue.

The tourism commission is comprised of town board members and they expressed little enthusiasm for hosting an event this summer.

“This is the new normal and (Sunflower Days) is not a priority this year other tasks to do,” said Board Supervisor Denise Schmidt, during meeting conducted by conference call.

Wayne Rounds Jr. suggested the town not host Sunflower Days in the future.

“It (a blossoming sunflower) should be removed from the town logo. It was never a historic crop here (and) the crop needs rotation,” he said.

Shifting sighting to 2021, Betsy True suggested enlisting the Friends of Pope Farm Conservancy in holding an ecologic-based event focusing on sustainable landscaping, or climate change impacts.

“Something more significant than Sunflower Days,” True said.

Construction of Pope Farm Elementary School is expected to complete next year and could serve as venue for such an event, she added.

Getting town residents involved in the planning of an event would factor into its success, said town chair Cynthia Richson. 

Schmidt agreed that planning at the grass root level would be better than the “top down” approach used by Sunflower Days.

Richson asked that a notice in the next town newsletter solicit residents’ input on the type of summer event they would like to see. 

“Let’s put our efforts toward 2021 and hope (the room tax) deficit gets paid off sooner than later,” Richson said in conclusion.

COVID-19 is expected to lower property assessments this year, town administrator Greg DiMiceli said at a town board meeting that followed the tourism commission meeting.

The announcement was an abrupt about face from assessments based on calculations town assessor Paul Musser made earlier this year, which spiked some home values by $100,000 or more.

Those assessments have since been removed from the Access Dane website and Richson asked Musser to see if a reported 16 percent decline in Dane County home sale prices should be factored into the new assessments. 

Musser is recalculating assessments in light of COVID-19 impacts. It is expected that property owners will receive notice of new assessments next month.

No change was made in the scheduled Open Book sessions set for the month of July or the August 13 Board of Review.

COVID-19 has already cost the town $30,000 to $35,000 in operating expenses, mostly for the April 7 primary election, said Town Administrator Greg DiMiceli.

In other action, the board amended the town’s Comprehensive Plan and rezoned 0.7 acres along Rocky Dell Road for Walser Electric office/warehouse. The contracting firm plans to relocate from the City of Middleton and construct a 10,000-square foot building plus restore two barns on a 10-acre parcel that is part of the Vosen Farm.

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